Deliberately Out of Bounds

Women’s Work on Classical Myth in Nineteenth-Century American Fiction



Nymphs, maenads, goddesses, and heroines from classical myth populate nineteenth-century American women writers’ fiction in exhilaratingly innovative, often multilayered and complex reconfigurations. Based on Hans Blumenberg’s notion of artists’ ongoing “work on myth” and Aby Warburg’s concept of ‘pathos formulaeʼ, this monograph explores the functions and meanings of these ancient figures in image and text.

Examining novels by Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Lydia Maria Child, Elizabeth Stoddard, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, and Louisa May Alcott, this study sheds light on the intellectual and aesthetic achievements of these American women writers across a range of genres. Furthermore, the book challenges the assumption that women’s “work on myth” did not thrive until the second half of the nineteenth century and proposes an approach to overcome the persisting binary and gendered opposition between myth and logos as the ‘feminine’ body and the ‘male’ mind.