Thesis Title

From Modern Prometheus To Modern Persephone: The Evolution Of Archetypal Myth From Mary Shelley To Virginia Woolf

Date of Graduation

Spring 2004


Master of Arts in Writing



Committee Chair

Mark Smith


The silence of females in early British literature is apparent; women kept quiet, suppressed by misogynistic cultural standards set by religious ideology. Patriarchal societies, including Classical Greece, validated poor treatment of women with archetypal myth; in the Christian realm, Eve exemplifies the foolish, disobedient woman infecting humanity with evil. Stymied by public pressure, women daring to write often used pseudonyms or published anonymously, keeping to descriptions of domestic affairs in their works. Over time, the voices of women authors evolved; they spoke more often and diversified their subject matter. Like their male predecessors, women often use archetypal myth in their storylines; their use of myth evolves, as well, and in the one hundred years between Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein and Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, the evolution of women's voices and their use of myth can be traced. Shelley parodies Milton's Paradise Lost, but even when she questions the wisdom of the Miltonian god, the lot of women does not improve; she illustrates how the classical convention of hubris leads to disaster, but her female characters are submissive and one dimensional. Woolf uses the archetypal image of the Corn King, but here, a woman arises as a Corn Queen; females are multidimensional, reflecting aspects of diverse archetypal goddess figures. Woolf disdains women who write like men and never acknowledges or mentions Shelley (Frankenstein was perceived as an unworthy novel for decades), but the efforts of women like Shelley, daring to speak aloud, made the next step of evolution for women writers much easier


archetypal, mythology, feminist, cultural evolution, gender issues, religion

Subject Categories

Creative Writing


© Wanda L. Zimmerman