Inventing Jane Harrison

I have received Mary Beard’s The Invention of Jane Harrison–there goes the evening. (And all hail the interlibrary loan staff for producing it so quickly.)

Ronald Hutton writes of Harrison in his book The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft:

“Savagery and barbarism both frightened and excited her. She admitted that ‘ritual seizes me: a ritual dance, a ritual procession and vestments and lights and banners, moves me as no sermon, no hymn, no picture, no poem has ever moved me.'”

She was both Puritan and would-be Bacchante in the same body, a fascinating character, described when lecturing at Cambridge as “a tall figure in black drapery, with touches of her favorite green and a string blue Egyptian beads, like a priestess’s rosary.” Hutton suggests that she did much to create the notion of a Great Goddess who preceded the familiar Greek pantheon. He quotes Beard, so now I will see what Beard has to say.

Beard herself describes the myth of Harrison thus in her preface:

“Jane Ellen Harrison changed the way we think about the ancient Greeks; she infuriated the academic establishment at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with her uncompromising refusal to play the submissive part; she fell repeatedly and hopelessly in love–usually with entirely unsuitable men, who were also her academic colleagues; she gave some of the most remarkably theatrical lectures that the University of Cambridge has ever seen; in the very male intellectual world of a century ago, she put women academics and women’s colleges (dangerously) on the map.”