International Journal of the Classical Tradition

, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 163–182 | Cite as

‘Maenads dancing before the Martyrs’ memorial’: Oxford women writers and the classical tradition

  • Isobel Hurst


For prominent Victorian women writers such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and George Eliot some degree of classical education was closely associated with successful literary ambitions, but the schools and universities where the classics were taught remained closed to them. Women achieved full membership of Oxford university after the First World War, around the same time as the compulsory Greek element of the Oxford degree was abolished. Before this, many women students had to pursue intensive courses of Greek even when their main subject of study was English or history. Aspiring writers such as Vera Brittain and Dorothy L. Sayers rushed through classical texts like theIliad and theAeneid in the original languages, later producing imaginative and often challenging reworkings of classical texts which reflect the experiences of the modern, educated woman. The adaptation of epic themes to modern forms such as the First World War memoir and the detective story is an important similarity in Sayers’ and Brittain’s literary responses to classical literature.


Classical Tradition Classical Text Classical Literature Full Membership Woman Writer 
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Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Isobel Hurst
    • 1
  1. 1.OxfordUK

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