Arachne’s Daughters: Towards a Feminist Poetics of Creative Autonomy

Richards, Jasmine. 2013. Arachne’s Daughters: Towards a Feminist Poetics of Creative Autonomy. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Although in patriarchal narratives female characters who challenge the dominant power structures of the society in which they live are often condemned for their dangerous sexuality, intelligence and creativity, classical myth continues to be attractive to women writers. In developing their theories of feminist poetics, Nancy K. Miller, Naomi Schor, Patricia Joplin and Carolyn Helibrun interpret classical women associated with textile production (Arachne, Ariadne, Philomela and Penelope) as symbols of the woman as artist. There also exists a tradition of female authors rewriting ancient heroines as artists, weavers, storytellers and figures of female wisdom and prophetic power, whose stories have the power to provoke social change.

I examine and adapt theories of authorship, influence and reception to a female writing subject. I apply this framework to three case studies, assessing the extent to which female authors have been successful in using classical myth to create positive representations of women, female creativity, voice and influence: the appropriation of Apuleius’ ‘Cupid and Psyche’ and Ovid’s Metamorphoses in fairytales by French salonnières, which then influence Angela Carter’s rewritings of La Belle et la Bête in The Bloody Chamber (1979); Mary Shelley’s reworking of Promethean myth and The Arabian Nights in Frankenstein (1818); and Margaret Atwood’s and Ursula Le Guin’s re-figurations of classical heroines in The Penelopiad (2005) and Lavinia (2008).

While these authors present interesting and effective techniques of rewriting, they sometimes reproduce a negative discourse of female creative inadequacy and authorial anxiety that does not reflect historical and contemporary reality. Extending Nancy K. Miller’s theory of ‘Arachnologies,’ I have developed a new framework for reading women’s rewriting practices. My feminist poetics of creative autonomy accurately reflects the woman writer’s sophisticated and creative dialogue with the classics and her relationship to the literary cultures and reading communities with which she identifies.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


Feminist poetics; creative autonomy; feminist theory; Madwoman in the Attic; Sandra Gilbert; Susan Gubar; Hélène Cixous; Luce Irigaray; The Laugh of Medusa; Roland Barthes; Death of the Author; Harold Bloom; Women Writers; textiles; weaving; female artist; female storytellers; Nancy K. Miller; Arachnologies; authorship; anxiety of influence; classical heroines; dialogues with the classics; Feminist Rewriting; classical reception; classical myth; Homer; Virgil; Ovid; Apuleius; Iliad; Odyssey; Aeneid; Metamorphoses; French fairytales; Cupid and Psyche; Penelope; Arachne; Helen of Troy; Ariadne; mothers and daughters in literature; fairies; oppositional space; feminist rewriting techniques; Le Mouton; L’Oiseau bleu; La Chatte blanche; salonnières; Villeneuve; Beaumont; d’Aulnoy; Belle et la Bête; The Sadeian Woman; Angela Carter; Courtship of Mr Lyon; Tiger’s Bride; Margaret Atwood; The Penelopiad; Ursula Le Guin; Lavinia; Mary Shelley; Frankenstein; Mary Wollstonecraft; A Vindication of the Rights of Women; The Arabian Nights; Prometheus; Safie; Victor Frankenstein; Frankenstein’s creature; Five Ladies of Bagdad; Sindbad

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature



Item ID:


Date Deposited:

04 Jul 2014 12:15

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 09:01


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