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May SinclairRe-Thinking Bodies and Minds$
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Rebecca Bowler and Claire Drewery

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781474415750

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474415750.001.0001

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Learning Greek: The Woman Artist as Autodidact in May Sinclair’s Mary Olivier: A Life

Learning Greek: The Woman Artist as Autodidact in May Sinclair’s Mary Olivier: A Life

(p.39) Chapter 2 Learning Greek: The Woman Artist as Autodidact in May Sinclair’s Mary Olivier: A Life
May Sinclair

Elise Thornton

Edinburgh University Press

May Sinclair’s reimagining of the late-Victorian poet in Mary Olivier: A Life examines the obstacles facing the artist-heroine in her quest for intellectual freedom, self-definition and artistic autonomy at the turn of the century. Very much constrained by her life at home by her mother, who defends the ideals of the cult of domesticity, Sinclair’s artist-heroine spends the majority of the novel trying to escape the oppressive forces of Victorian society, and Mary specifically challenges many of the period’s patriarchal standards concerning women’s right to an education as well as masculinist definitions of appropriate forms of female creativity. One of the main influences guiding Mary towards her artistic fulfilment is her desire for knowledge, and Sinclair questions the boundaries of acceptable female education in Victorian England by focusing specifically on Mary’s interest in Greek studies—a traditionally masculine subject. Crucially, this essay examines Sinclair’s presentation of Mary’s autodidactism and explores how education influences not only the development of the woman artist, but how it impacts her own understanding of her creative potential as Mary’s theories about language and the translation process shape her burgeoning Imagist style at the turn of the twentieth century.

Keywords:   Greek, autodidactism, education, women, creativity, intellectual

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