Heretical Hellenism — 2008

Women Writers, Ancient Greece, and the Victorian Popular Imagination

By Shanyn Fiske

Heretical Hellenism offers new ideas and opens the door to to an area of cultural influence on Charlotte Brontë’s work that has until now remained virtually unconsidered.”

Brontë Studies

“Fiske’s Heretical Hellenism offers a nuanced perspective…focusing on women who may have lacked formal training in Greek but who nevertheless gained access to antiquity through its representations in Victorian popular culture or who were quick studies of the ancients but nevertheless expressed anxiety about the insufficiency of their classical learning.”

Journal of British Studies

“(T)his is a book that will appeal to classicists, Victorianists, feminists, and historians. Fiske skillfully interlaces Victorian culture and current events that impinge on her subject—the purchase of the Elgin Marbles and their installment in the British Museum…; sensational murder trials; the rise of women’s colleges; and Britain’s reevaluation of its educational system following WWII….”

Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature

The prevailing assumption regarding the Victorians’ relationship to ancient Greece is that Greek knowledge constituted an exclusive discourse within elite male domains. Heretical Hellenism: Women Writers, Ancient Greece, and the Victorian Popular Imagination challenges that theory and argues that while the information women received from popular sources was fragmentary and often fostered intellectual insecurities, it was precisely the ineffability of the Greek world refracted through popular sources and reconceived through new fields of study that appealed to women writers’ imaginations.

Examining underconsidered sources such as theater history and popular journals, Shanyn Fiske uncovers the many ways that women acquired knowledge of Greek literature, history, and philosophy without formal classical training. Through discussions of women writers such as Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Jane Harrison, Heretical Hellenism demonstrates that women established the foundations of a heretical challenge to traditional humanist assumptions about the uniformity of classical knowledge and about women’s place in literary history.

Heretical Hellenism provides a historical rationale for a more expansive definition of classical knowledge and offers an interdisciplinary method for understanding the place of classics both in the nineteenth century and in our own time.


Picture of Shanyn Fiske

Shanyn Fiske is an assistant professor of English at Rutgers University at Camden. She is the author of articles on Charlotte Brontë, Jane Harrison, Charles Dickens, and Alicia Little.

Cover of 'Heretical Hellenism'

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Hardcover978-0-8214-1817-8

280 pages · 6 × 9 in.

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