“Inviolable force”: Philomela, aphasia, and the female grotesque in 'The Waste Land'

Ruth Clemens

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper

    Abstract

    The inability to speak or to articulate oneself is a reoccurring feature of T.S. Eliot's early verse, from the hyper-consciousness of J. Alfred Prufrock, who bewails that “it is impossible to say just what I mean”, to the voices of the Hollow Men, which are as “quiet and meaningless/As wind in dry grass”. Perhaps the most striking example of this phenomenon, however, occurs in The Waste Land, in which Ovid's Metamorphoses is not only an important influence but is strongly alluded to. In the Metamorphoses, the princess Philomela is rendered unable to speak after being kidnapped, abused, and mutilated, and can neither denounce her captor nor cathartically articulate her experiences. Eventually, only through her divine transformation into a nightingale can she finally have a voice. Similarly, the female, neurotic speaker in the second part of The Waste Land's “A Game Of Chess” (tellingly, originally to be called “In the Cage”, suggesting both entrapment and a home for songbirds) cannot seemingly articulate itself, whereas the tone of the segment indicates an underlying terror is present. This paper aims to investigate the importance Ovid's Philomela has in the presentation of this inability to speak within The Waste Land, with particular attention paid to attitudes towards female mental illness and hysteria at the time, and the female grotesque. As poststructuralist feminist theorist Hélène Cixous asserts, “silence is the mark of hysteria”, and Philomela's mutilation-enduced silence is the physical embodiment of the insidious terror which The Waste Land's female characters communicate, somewhat paradoxically, through their inability to talk about it.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusUnpublished - 2012
    EventT. S. Eliot and the Heritage of Rome and Italy in Modernist Literature - Florence, Italy
    Duration: 4 Feb 201211 Feb 2012

    Conference

    ConferenceT. S. Eliot and the Heritage of Rome and Italy in Modernist Literature
    Country/TerritoryItaly
    CityFlorence
    Period4/02/1211/02/12

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