In his essay "The Philosophy of Composition," Edgar Allan Poe proclaims that "the death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world," and this sentiment remains curiously persistent within the literary world. Artists have looked towards their beautiful muses for centuries as a source of inspiration and introspection, and the faces that these muses wear were often swooning, longing, or even dead. Nineteenth-century British aesthetics solidified a gendered ideology that remains prevalent to this day; in particular, one subculture of Victorian aesthetics that emerged during this period was the Cult of Ophelia: a collection of writers and artists who revitalized Shakespeare's heroine for mass consumption, immortalizing her as the zenith of tragedy, beauty, and madness. This thesis examines the origins, conventions, and evolution of the Ophelia trope through the art and literature of the nineteenth century and beyond, paying particular attention to the work of Pre-Raphaelite muse Elizabeth Siddal and twenty-first-century writer Sylvia Plath. By reading Siddal's work in conjunction with Plath's, this thesis positions both women as writers that operate within a literary tradition that reclaims their "madness" from the dominant societies that fetishized their mental illness.
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Master of Arts (M.A.)
College of Arts and Humanities
English; Literary, Cultural and Textual Studies
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Crawford, Amy, "Uncovering Ophelia: The Reclamation of Women's Madness Through Feminist Disability Studies" (2022). Electronic Theses and Dissertations, 2020-. 992.