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Revolution in antiquity: the classicizing fiction of Naomi Mitchison

Goff, B. ORCID: (2022) Revolution in antiquity: the classicizing fiction of Naomi Mitchison. Clotho, 4 (2). pp. 155-179. ISSN 2670-6229

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To link to this item DOI: 10.4312/clotho.4.2.155-179


The writer and activist Naomi Mitchison (1897-1999) came from a prominent establishment family, but was a member of the Labour Party and wife of a Labour MP. Her work was explicitly marked by the Russian Revolution, even when she wrote about antiquity. In the 1920s and 1930s she produced a number of historical fictions set in ancient Greece and Rome, highly regarded at the time. The works use the canvas of antiquity to experiment with many forms of political and social radicalism, with a challenging focus on female sexuality. I shall discuss four specific representations of revolution, which mobilise female agency in ways that are themselves highly unconventional. However, these representations also invoke the Fraserian figure of the dying king, who leads the revolution, to disaster, compromising the revolutionary energy. This tension speaks to Mitchison’s own contradictory social positioning as a patrician radical. In 1972, however, the novel Cleopatra’s People revisits the theme and stages a more successful uprising. This novel centres on the sacrificial queen instead of king, enlists a mass of people, and saves the revolution by hiding its personnel in Africa. The final excursion into antiquity found a way to press the history into useful service.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Language Text and Power
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > Classics
ID Code:111354
Publisher:University of Ljubljana Press


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