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Great War, White Goddess, and Translation as Catharsis: A Study of Robert Graves and Ted Hughes

MCKENZIE, LAURA,ELIZABETH (2018) Great War, White Goddess, and Translation as Catharsis: A Study of Robert Graves and Ted Hughes. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



The First World War played a critical role in shaping the poetic consciousness of both Robert Graves and Ted Hughes. The combat trauma from which Graves suffered following his front line service confronted him with ‘baffling emotional problems’ on which the ‘pathology of poetic composition relied’, a mental conflict that–following the advice of W. H. R. Rivers–he repeatedly attempted to ‘write out’. For Hughes, whose father returned from Gallipoli profoundly shell shocked, the war was Britain’s ‘number one national ghost’, a phantom that he tried desperately to exorcise through his poetry. Yet although critics including D. N. G. Carter and Keith Sagar have utilised trauma theory to produce psychological readings of Graves’s and Hughes’s poetry that locate them as sites of catharsis, the field of modern literary studies has yet to scrutinise the theoretical relationships articulated in the poets’ interpretations of classical texts, such as Graves’s rendering of Homer’s Iliad and Hughes’s translation of Seneca’s Oedipus. Does the medium of classical translation offer, in any unique way, an opportunity for catharsis? How do the poets’ experiences of combat-related trauma affect the transmission of these classical texts?

Profoundly interdisciplinary, this project attempts to answer these questions while remaining centrally cognisant of Graves’s mythopoetical influence on Hughes’s oeuvre. Throughout this thesis, I examine the extent to which the mythopoetical framework proposed by Graves in The White Goddess, a text shaped by the freight of Graves’s war experience, was embraced by Hughes, whose own formative years were dominated by the narrative of the First World War. The relationship between traumatic experience and the poets’ shamanic approach to translation is delineated and tested within this discourse: their idolatrous adherence to–and in Hughes’s case, fear of–the primacy of an archetypal matriarchal force, and their attempts to access the primitive nature of myth by stripping it of its patriarchal palimpsests of scholarship, are revealed as literary manifestations of a struggle to apprehend the meaning of their respective combat-related traumas, both direct and secondary, which remain ineluctably disrupted.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Robert Graves, Ted Hughes, Translation, Trauma, First World War, Poetry, War Poetry, Classical Reception, Homer, Iliad, Seneca, Oedipus, Apuleius, Metamorphoses, The Golden Ass, Post-Memory, Walter Benjamin, The White Goddess
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2018
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:22 Feb 2018 11:46

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