INTRODUCTION

The Lesbian Muse and Poetic Identity, 1889–1930 examines the role of contemporary muse figures in the work of six late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century women poets: Michael Field (Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper), Olive Custance, Amy Lowell, H.D. and Bryher. My focus in this book is distinctive in three main ways: firstly, in contrast to previous studies of the muse in nineteenth- and twentieth-century women’s poetry, which tend to focus on historical, dead or mythological muse figures (such as Sappho and the Virgin Mary), this book focuses on the ethical implications of turning a living, contemporary person into a muse. This raises important questions that form the backbone of my study, such as: how does a real person become ‘textualized’ as a poem? Is this a problematic form of objectification, or a loving act of immortalization? I will explore such issues and problems specific to the contemporary muse, including the gaze, objectification, ventriloquism, silencing and battles for subject position. The latter issue is particularly relevant when the muse is also a poet, as within a collaborative writing dynamic such as that of Bradley and Cooper (who wrote together as ‘Michael Field’). Secondly, this study is distinctive in that it crosses the temporal boundary of the ‘1900’ divide, comparing fin-de-siècle and modernist poets’ constructions of the muse across approximately a forty-year period, a temporal scope roughly compassed by the ‘landmarks’ of 1889 (the publication year of Michael Field’s first poetic volume Long Ago) and 1930 (the year in which H.D. and Bryher produced the film Borderline). Resisting a reductive narrative of chronological progress or ‘improvement’, I focus on the influence of the fin de siècle on the next generation of poets, considering the innovative aspects of fin-de-siècle poetics, particularly its fluid and enabling constructions of gender, sexuality and poetic identity. Marion Thain has already explored this idea in relation to modernism’s nostalgic ‘homage’ to the fin de siècle, arguing that modernist writers often envied the late Victorian era’s comparatively enabling responses to matters such as art versus economy, and public versus private expression. Cassandra Laity has also suggested that the fin de siècle exhibited more fluid definitions of gender and sexuality. As a result, she proposes that female modernist writers responded dif-

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ferently to late Victorian literature compared to male modernists. While male modernists feared the ‘feminizing’ influence of late Victorian writers such as Algernon Charles Swinburne, who were not correctly ‘masculine’, Laity suggests that female modernists viewed these writers as enabling foremothers, responding to decadence as the roots of a female literary tradition.1 This links to the third distinctive feature of this book: my readings cross boundaries of gender and sexuality by looking at both male and female muse figures. Previous critical work on these six focal women poets has tended to focus on their influences on each other and/or on their homosocial or lesbian relationships. I will expand this discussion by looking at the influence of male writers – particularly discourses of male homoeroticism – on this group of women poets, for as Terry Castle notes: ‘the history of homosexual creativity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is full of vibrant cross-gendered relationships’.2 I argue that such male homoerotic discourses enabled women poets to construct a male muse, or to confuse gender categories from within the traditionally ‘heterosexual’ poet/muse dynamic. Some of the women poets I look at in this study have female muses; others have male muses – most have a combination of the two. Therefore, I propose that the gender of the muse does not necessarily correspond to sexual orientation or desire – this dynamic is not simply a reversal of the traditionally heterosexual muse/poet dynamic (e.g. the logic that suggests that women have male muses, because men have female muses), nor is this dynamic always same-sex to reflect homoerotic desire (e.g. lesbian poets do not necessarily have female muses). The late nineteenth and early twentieth century, which provides the historical scope for this study, offers a wealth of potential women poets to choose from as focal writers. This rich array of women poets is partly a result of the fact that women in this period took centre stage in many arenas – including poetry – as never before. As Elaine Showalter, Sally Ledger and Sheila Rowbotham (and several others) have observed, the late nineteenth century witnessed the muchdiscussed rise of the New Woman and the beginnings of the modern feminist movement, brought about by significant marriage, education and employment reforms during the mid-nineteenth century. Political action, such as mobilizing around the Contagious Diseases Acts (1864–9), trade union strikes (such as the matchgirl strike of 1888) and the campaign for women’s suffrage (the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was formed in 1897), resulted in women’s increased visibility in the public arena. In addition to these social and political factors, in 1892 the literary terrain was substantially altered by the death of Alfred, Lord Tennyson. This unseating of the poet laureate (who was succeeded by the considerably less impressive Alfred Austin in 1896) enabled ‘minor’ poets – including women – to come to the fore:

Introduction Diversity, and the absence of a figure-head icon, might justly be said to characterise the poetry of this period. By the 1890s there was a dizzying array of poetic movements, genres, types and coteries. This was beneficial for women poets … [who] were publishing in such great numbers and with such vigour by the end of the century that there is no longer a polarity between a ‘women’s tradition’ and a mainstream … the marginal became central.3

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This period also spawned sexological categorization through the pioneering work of Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing (Psychopathia Sexualis, 1886) and Havelock Ellis (Sexual Inversion, 1897) and the beginnings of psychoanalysis (Sigmund Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900). These emerging sexological and psychoanalytical discourses presented problems as well as opportunities for homoerotically inclined individuals, as they provided a language to express, but also to define and control, genders and sexualities ‘outside of ’ heterosexuality (as Michel Foucault most famously argued in The History of Sexuality). Finally, as has been repeatedly noted by critics, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was also a period of intense artistic innovation and experimentation, characterized by the three major movements of aestheticism, decadence and modernism. All of these movements responded to the immense pace of social change by seeking new art forms that would capture, resist or provide alternatives to ‘modern’ life, whether these were founded in past aesthetic forms, explorations of inner psychology, direct political engagement, looking forward to possible futures, or escaping to imaginary worlds. In poetry, this artistic innovation led to several experimental movements, including Pre-Raphaelitism, Parnassism, decadence, symbolism, Imagism, Vorticism, Futurism, surrealism and many more. I propose that all these factors together – the rise of women, democratization of the poetic ‘field’, new theories of sexuality and intense artistic experimentation – led to a major reimagining of the muse/poet relationship during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This impulse to reconsider the muse is seen in the way in which many writers of this epoch responded to the issue of the muse in novels, plays and journalism.4 However, this study focuses specifically on lyric poetry, as it is the genre most readily associated with the concept of the muse and thus the natural arena in which these issues are to be tackled. Lyric poetry provides both the vehicle for the literary tradition in which women have been consistently depicted as inspirers, and the medium for rewriting this tradition. Genre theorists continue to disagree over what exactly constitutes ‘lyric’ poetry, and what defines it in contrast to other poetic genres. M. H. Abrams, for example, defines it as ‘any fairly short poem, consisting of an utterance by a single speaker, who expresses a state of mind or a process of perception, thought and feeling’.5 Abrams’s definition focuses on the ‘I’ of the lyric poem, the speaker, but the ‘you’ or addressee plays an important role as well. Lyric’s etymological connection to song – ‘lyric’ comes from ‘for the lyre’ – links

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it to the notion of a public musical performance before a listening audience. In keeping with this, W. R. Johnson defines lyric as a collective genre: as ‘a speaker, or singer, talking to, another person or persons, often, but not always, at a highly dramatic moment in which the essence of their relationship … reveals itself in the singer’s lyrical discourse’.6 However we define it, lyric is ‘fundamentally concerned with the conditions and nature of address’.7 It is both personal and public, an ‘utterance’ addressed to an unheard audience or addressee. This listener/addressee, the one who is invoked by the lyric speaker, has frequently been a female muse – either a goddess invoked by the poet, who grants him ability to sing, or, later, the beloved of the courtly love lyric. The muse/poet dynamic therefore plays a crucial shaping role in the genre of lyric poetry, since lyric poetry relies on the speaking ‘I’ and a receptive ‘you’. This ‘you’ has been consistently gendered feminine throughout literary tradition; in poetry by Catullus, Petrarch, Dante and Shakespeare, to name just a few prominent examples, she appears as the beloved, whose silent presence enables the lyric poem to come into being. Therefore, even when the ‘I’ and ‘you’ of lyric are not explicitly assigned genders, the act of establishing identity through speaking to, or for, another has gendered associations – associations that originate from the literary convention of the muse. When choosing the specific women poets who provide the focal emphases of this study, I looked for poets for whom the issue of the muse was highly relevant, in terms of both their lives and their work. Secondly, I sought poets who addressed this issue within their poetic work in complex, innovative ways. None of the poets in this study are explicitly politically engaged; their exploration of these issues resides in their various (yet interconnected) poetic innovations, identified and discussed in the main chapters of this book. In this sense, they are representative of their era; although some poets, such as Dollie Radford and Edith Nesbit, were directly politically engaged, the poets in this study have more in common with the female aesthetes traced by Talia Schaffer, whose ‘avoidance of politics itself implies an interesting political formation … a silence that ought to be heard’.8 Like the female aesthetes, none of the poets addressed in this study conform unproblematically to the (posthumously designated) category of ‘feminist poet’. But while they seldom address the problem of the muse in explicit terms, they do rework the problems and issues associated with the muse within their work in multifarious ways. Issues of the muse were certainly relevant to Michael Field, addressed in the first chapter of this book. Aunt and niece Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper were engaged in a lifelong romantic relationship, as well as collaborating as poets and playwrights under the pseudonym of ‘Michael Field’. Therefore the poet/ muse relationship and its attendant issues were intensely relevant to them, as they wanted to express their desire for one another and praise one another’s beauty,

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but also simultaneously to maintain their active roles as creative participants in a shared poetic collaboration. In other words, they needed to perform the roles of poet and muse, without getting ‘stuck’ in either position (as this would preclude writing for one of the pair and thus destroy the collaboration). The chapter of this study dedicated to Bradley and Cooper argues that they achieved this ‘sharing’ of the roles of poet and muse through their shared male pseudonym, and also through a shared muse or ‘third term’ – a role performed, in the specific instance discussed in this study, by the art critic Bernard Berenson. Berenson’s important presence as muse is reflected in several poems from Michael Field’s Sight and Song (1892) and Underneath the Bough (1893), which this study examines, along with Michael Field’s autobiographical accounts of the relationship. The second poet addressed in this study, Olive Custance, also turned to a male muse, principally in the form of her husband, Lord Alfred Douglas. Custance spent her teenage years reading male homoerotic writings by figures such as Swinburne, Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde (the erstwhile lover of her husbandto-be) – all of whom frequently wrote in praise of beautiful androgynous male muses. Therefore it is little surprise that when she began writing poetry, Custance also imagined the muse as male. For Custance, claiming her own muse was also a defence against being turned into a muse herself by poets such as Richard Le Gallienne (who depicted her in his 1897 novel The Quest of the Golden Girl). The volumes of Custance’s poetry discussed in this study, including Opals (1897) and Rainbows (1902), contain several examples of Custance’s ambiguously gendered muses, inspired by the real-life figures of Natalie Barney, John Gray and Douglas, with whom she enjoyed romantic liaisons. This androgynous or multi-gendered muse reflects Custance’s bisexual desires and her complex affiliations with the aesthetic and decadent movements. Like Custance, and all the other focal poets featured in this book, Amy Lowell was also intensely inspired by real-life figures. Two contemporary figures served as her lifelong muses: the Italian actress Eleonora Duse and Lowell’s domestic partner Ada Dwyer Russell. The chapter in this study focusing on Lowell argues that she ‘projected’ an ideal of femininity onto both of these figures, in order to identify herself with the ‘masculine’ position of poet. My chapter on Lowell recounts how, in the early stages of her poetic development, Lowell observed Duse’s acting techniques and went on to employ these in her poetry, speaking ‘through’ both her muse figures, particularly in the volume Pictures of the Floating World (1919). I propose that such ventriloquism enabled Lowell to reconcile her gender with her poetic identity – but it also had the ethical implications of silencing other women in order to assert her own poetic voice. The final chapter of this study focuses on two poets, H.D. and Bryher, who, like Bradley and Cooper, founded a collaborative creative dynamic based in a personal, romantic relationship. In the early part of her career, H.D. served as

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inspiration for the male Imagist circle, including Ezra Pound, D. H. Lawrence and her husband, Richard Aldington – a role that led her to feel objectified as a muse rather than recognized as a poet and artist. H.D.’s main challenge was to avoid replicating this dynamic in her relationship with the younger poet Bryher, who was also her lover. My chapter focusing on these two writers argues that they ultimately restructured the muse/poet dynamic by sharing ‘the image’ (poetic, photographic and psychic) throughout their careers, allowing them to swap subject/object positions within their work. The chapter concludes by rereading H.D.’s and Bryher’s poetry in light of their photographic and cinematic collaborations, suggesting that their sharing of the visual image permits a mobility between the poet and muse roles. As will be evident from the above, the focal poets of this study all have complex relationships to sexuality and gender; they could all be (if somewhat reductively and anachronistically) labelled ‘lesbian’ or ‘bisexual’ based on the desires conveyed in their texts, combined with biographical evidence about their personal lives. Their sexual orientation, desires and personal relationships, combined with their situatedness within literary tradition, thus places these poets in an interesting position vis-à-vis the poet/muse dynamic, as they balance male identification with the traditionally male role of poet, and with desire for women, with female identification with the traditionally female role of muse. In other words, as Elizabeth J. Donaldson observes (in relation to Amy Lowell), all these poets face the challenge of speaking ‘of a conventional subject (woman) from an unconventional position (lesbian writer)’ – and they must do so without uncritically reproducing the male-oriented tradition that renders women as silent muses.9 The Lesbian Muse explores each poet’s solutions to these dilemmas, and the interrelated poetic approaches that characterize their relative successes and failures. My final selective criteria for choosing these specific poets resides in the fact that all these focal poets are engaged in a collaboration with another living figure, to a greater or lesser extent. These collaborations have been acknowledged to varying degrees (by the poets themselves and by their critics), but it is generally true that every poet featured in this book worked alongside (in Whitney Chadwick and Isabelle De Courtivron’s phrase) a ‘significant other’ who inspired, influenced and often actively shaped (contributed to or edited) their poetic work. I ultimately propose that the presence of the living muse radically remakes the poet/muse relationship, as a contemporary, living figure can talk back, write back and (in some cases) fight back against their own objectification, transforming the traditionally passive muse into an active participant in a dynamic poetic dialogue. This study examines the potentially problematic aspects of the poet/ muse dynamic, particularly through the lens of feminist and queer theory, as well as identifying the opportunities and experiments enabled by that dynamic. I conclude that for all of my focal poets, utilization of the poet/muse dynamic by

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claiming a contemporary muse leads to the disruption of gender categories and a greater fluidity between the roles of poet and muse. In these and other ways, the muse/poet relationships I trace in this study are drastically altered and distinctive due to the fact that the muse is a living, contemporary figure rather than a dead, historical or mythological figure. In order to begin the process of defining the contemporary muse, I will first briefly delineate the historical origins of the concept of the ‘muse’. I then look at why claiming a muse has been particularly problematic for women poets. My introduction then moves on to look specifically at the possibilities for constructing a ‘lesbian muse’, interrogating the ways in which the poet/muse dynamic can be affected and altered by homoerotic desire. The final section of this introduction is a brief account of the methodological approach of this book, in terms of its negotiation of gendered literary traditions, its temporal focus and its approach to the construction of gender in lyric poetry.

Background: The Muse and Women Poets
The traditional female muse, invoked in male-authored poetry throughout centuries of Western literature, has a long, complex history that is too detailed to trace in full here. Therefore I will trace it in terms of five broad developments: the classical, the medieval, the Renaissance/early Modern, the Romantic and the Freudian. This account is in no way exhaustive, but it provides a glimpse of the heritage of this key literary concept. The nine muses have their classical debut in Hesiod’s Theogony (c. 700 bc). The poem opens with Hesiod encountering the muses on Mount Helicon. In terms of their genealogy, the muses are the product of a union between Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. Their various attributes have been further expanded on in literature following their initial appearance in the Theogony. They are, from eldest to youngest: Calliope, muse of epic poetry; Clio, muse of history; Erato, muse of love poetry; Euterpe, muse of music and lyric poetry; Melpomene, muse of tragedy; Polyhymena, muse of sacred song; Terpsichore, muse of choral song and dance; Thalia, muse of comedy; and Urania, muse of astronomy and astrology. As the daughters of Memory, the muses’ original role was to help a poet remember and sing events of the past. As Hesiod’s account demonstrates, the muses’ gift could bring literary fame and greatness to the lowliest of shepherds, for ‘every man is fortunate whom the Muses love’.10 However, power relations between the poet and the muses are ambiguous, as they warn him: ‘we know to tell many lies that sound like truth’.11 Therefore, although the muses themselves are infallible, they mix lies and truth, perhaps in order to remind the mortal poet that he is merely a passive receiver of their wisdom. Gayle A. Levy explains the power relations between the male poet and the classical muse in terms of divine possession or enthusiasme, a kind of madness

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My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun; Coral is far more red than her lips’ red16

described in Plato’s Symposium and Aristotle’s Poetics: ‘the Muses … are not simply a passive catalyst behind the poet’s creative act. The author is the compliant recipient and the Muses fill him with their creativity, their ideas and their words’.12 As ancient Greek mythology shifted first into Roman and then Christian culture, the concept of a divine, inspiring feminine power lived on, but became corporealized and connected to an actual, living woman. As Mary DeShazer puts it, rather than a goddess, the muse becomes ‘woman spiritualized, the earthly manifestation of heavenly powers … a divine mediator between man and God’.13 In Christian culture, a key figure who embodies this mediating role is of course the Virgin Mary, a human woman who bore the Word on earth and inspired countless songs of devotion from her followers. These songs of devotion eventually evolved into the courtly love tradition of the medieval troubadours. In courtly tradition, the ‘divine’ and ‘erotic’ aspects of the female muse are collapsed together; the muse becomes an unattainable mistress whom the poet worships. As Francine Prose explains, since within Christian culture ‘[t]here were no deities to oversee the lyric, the love song, the dance … there was no way to go but down – from the divine to the mortal. And since falling in love is the closest that most people come to transcendence … passion became the model for understanding inspiration’.14 Thus in medieval courtly love poetry the muse is replaced by an actual woman, such as Petrarch’s Laura or Dante’s Beatrice. But though ostensibly human, these figures are still connected to the divine, ‘positioned somewhere between the Virgin and actual flesh-and-blood woman’.15 Poets of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, such as William Shakespeare and John Donne, frequently drew on such Petrarchan conventions in their love lyrics, but also began to disrupt and parody them. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, for example, inverts the conventions of the Petrarchan blazon, declaring:

Barbara Estrin argues that John Donne also turns Petrarchanism on its head, by trying to ‘convince the imagined lady that she can get a better poem if she says “yes” to the poet’.17 In this sense Donne’s muse becomes actively complicit in the making of the poem – at least in an imaginary sense. The playful ambiguity of Donne’s speaking subjects (who frequently remain ungendered) troubled his nineteenth-century readers, as did the sensual nature of his love lyrics. However, later in the nineteenth century ‘others had begun discreetly to praise Donne’s love poetry for qualities that had long been deplored’ – such as the physical passion of his love lyrics, and their gender ambiguity.18 Aside from lyric, the muse was also a vital tool for those writing in other poetic genres, such as epic and political poetry. For example, Edmund Spenser invokes the muse in his Christian epic The Faerie Queene (1596) in order to justify his move from pastoral to historical subject matter:

Introduction Lo I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske, As time her taught, in lowly Shepheards weeds, Am now enforst a far unfitter taske, For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds, And sing of Knights and Ladies gentle deeds19

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Equally, in Paradise Lost (1674) John Milton’s ‘Heav’nly’ muse Urania places his epic poem within the tradition of Homer and Virgil, enabling him to forge a connection between the nine muses of ancient Greek mythology (in which Urania is the muse of astronomy) and the Holy Spirit of Christian theology. His muse will ‘soar / Above th’ Aonian Mount’, helping the poet ‘assert Eternal Providence, / And justifie the wayes of God to men’.20 In both cases, the female muse acts as a cover and displacement for the male poet’s own epic ambitions, granting him ‘permission’ to speak on historical and religious matters. In the eighteenth century, poets such as Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift also used the muse in a similar way, with Pope protesting that his satirical muse is not vicious, but merely a way of coping with life: ‘The Muse but serv’d to ease some friend, not wife, / To help me thro’ this long disease, my Life’.21 The medieval idea of the muse as an actual, living woman and divine mediator – rooted in courtly love poetry – persisted into the Romantic tradition; but rather than being associated with the Virgin Mary, the muse became associated with the more secular (but no less sublime) natural world in the form of Mother Nature. Irene Tayler explains how Romantic male poets frequently used actual women from their lives as inspiration, turning them into ‘personae’ of the male creative imagination, embodying the ‘natural’ values that they felt cut off from as socialized male subjects:
the male Romantics all turned to some kind of woman or women – figures whom they did not generally call ‘muses’, partly because they were … literal women, real sisters, wives, or lovers. Yet as females who filled the traditional inspiring role of muses for the poets who invoked them, they typically also appeared within the works they inspired, transmuted into fictional representations of aspects of the poetic imagination, much in the way muses have always done … Like the females of their poetic fictions, these women were for the purposes of the male creative imagination less persons than personae of the poet, doubles or projections of himself, and especially of that lost transcendent self who lived amid ‘the glory and the dream’.22

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Therefore, in Romantic literature Mother Nature and actual, living women become connected, representing semi-divine powers that are beyond language. Nonetheless, the prospect of returning to the womb – of being devoured or annihilated by the Eternal Feminine – was a threatening one for the Romantic male poet. Thus Tayler argues that the male poet contained these powers within a specific woman, allowing him to explore feminine ‘transcendence’ from a safe distance:

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The Lesbian Muse and Poetic Identity, 1889–1930 The muse as literal woman – a Dorothy Wordsworth, or even better a Lucy (as fictional variant of the actual sister) – thus offers a safer object of love; she represents the sum of all being, yet her dimensions are sufficiently human to allow of human embrace, and as poetic topic she is safely encoded in language. In this way the male artist’s female muse offers him a way to encounter both Mother Earth and lost Edenic paradise in a form that is not annihilative but restorative.23

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The Romantic idea of Mother Nature as the origin of our existence, the prelinguistic darkness from which we emerged into language, links to the Freudian conceptions of the muse that emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Psychoanalytic theory, founded in Freud and Jacques Lacan, locates the birth of language and subjectivity at the point of separation from a symbiotic union with the mother’s body (instigated by the threatening presence of the father in the Oedipal scenario), and interprets all creative endeavour (including the writing of poetry) as symptomatic of the unending process of sublimation to compensate for that original loss. In this formulation, the muse is a manifestation of the lost mother – in fact she is a rather obvious symptom of sublimation, since her various mythological guises echo the terror and desire surrounding the original, relinquished mother figure. In Mothering the Mind (1984), Ruth Perry and Martine Watson Brownley argue that the mother is also, in a very practical (as well as psychical) sense, the original muse: ‘An infant first experiences itself in the presence of – and in relation to – a mother … who holds it, feeds it, cleans it, and so on … This caretaking protects the space available to play and exploration and subsequently permits a creative interaction with the world’.24 Perry and Watson Brownley derive their theories from the psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott, who in Playing and Reality (1971) states that ‘In individual emotional development the precursor of the mirror is the mother’s face’.25 Similarly, Elizabeth Bronfen claims ‘the maternal gaze to be the most poignant point of departure for the emergence of images … The child mirrors itself in the maternal gaze, and gains a sense of its own plenitude long before it has mastered a language that will allow it to describe this jubilatory experience’.26 Creative endeavour, these critics imply, is a result of the desire to express this original connection with the mother. These psychoanalytical models raise particular issues for women. For while, in Lacanian terms, the realization of the mother’s ‘castration’ and the intervening presence of the Phallus (Father) work together to ensure the male infant enters the Symbolic order (i.e. separates from the mother and transfers his identification to the father), Freud and the psychoanalytic critics that followed him disagree over how or whether the female infant successfully ‘breaks’ from the mother. This is because unlike the boy, the girl is also required to identify with the mother due to their sameness. As Luce Irigaray explains, for the female infant, castration is a ‘fait accompli: an amputation already performed … like

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her mother, she herself is castrated’.27 Therefore, since ‘she need not fear the loss of a sex organ she does not have’, the girl’s motivation for separating from the mother is absent.28 Moreover, identification with the father is difficult, since she is marked off as different from him by her ‘lack’. Therefore, in Lacanian terms, the result is that the little girl has a different relationship to language: the Symbolic order represented by ‘the name of the father’. She is required to enter it in order to function in the world, but she is also marked off by it as Other/inferior, due to her absence of the Phallus. Lynette Felber argues that the daughter’s position leaves her in a double bind – she desires to reconnect with the mother’s body, but she can only express this longing in the terms of the Symbolic order: a ‘paradoxical endeavour’.29 To solve this problem, several theorists following Lacan have advocated a ‘women’s language’ founded in this semiotic or pre-Oedipal stage. Julia Kristeva distinguishes the ‘semiotic (drives and their articulations) from the realm of signification’.30 In other words, the pre-linguistic semiotic or ‘chora’ predates the structure of the Symbolic order (dominated by the Law of the Father) and is founded on rhythmical drives: ‘the chora precedes and underlies figuration … and is analogous only to vocal or kinetic rhythm’.31 The source of this semiotic ‘language’ is, of course, the ‘mother’s body … the ordering principle of the semiotic chora’.32 Kristeva connects the chora to poetic language, citing the work of Joyce, Artaud and Mallarmé. She finally suggests that such poetic language, founded in the rhythms of the mother’s body, holds the ultimate potential to ‘break’ the Symbolic order:
Art – the semiotization of the symbolic – thus represents the flow of jouissance into language … art specifies the means – the only means – that jouissance harbors for infiltrating that order. In cracking the socio-symbolic order, splitting it open, changing vocabulary, syntax, the word itself, and releasing from beneath them the drives born of vocalic or kinetic differences … poetry shows us that language lends itself to the penetration of the socio-symbolic by jouissance.33

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Thus the concept of the poetic muse is in many ways an appealing and potent one, offering images of women as powerful goddesses, beautiful beloveds and semi-divine Mothers of God. In all these guises, feminine power is credited as the very origin of art. Due to the interventions of psychoanalysis, this concept is supplemented by Kristevan notions of the rhythmic, feminine chora: poetic rhythms, founded in the mother’s body, which hold the potential to shatter the restrictive ‘socio-symbolic order’. However, though tantalizing and potentially empowering due to its assertion of female power, the concept of the muse has been difficult for women poets to claim for themselves. This is due to women’s positioning throughout literary history, which has placed them exclusively in the passive role of muse, making it difficult for them to claim a muse of their own.