Navigating liminal spaces: a rediscovery of Meredith's "The Day of the Daughter of Hades".
Exploring "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" in terms of its own poetic and literary constructions reveals the unresolved tensions and wide-ranging vision employed throughout Meredith's salient poem. This poem has received, at best, half-hearted attentions from nineteenth-century and modern critics, and I would argue that critical silence on this poem is due to Meredith's complicated relegation of femininity and matriarchal lineage to the habitation of liminal spaces. An analysis of the three central female figures--Demeter, Persephone, and Skiageneia, the daughter of Hades and Persephone--reveals the ways in which Meredith creates a matrilineal legacy overshadowed by an oppressive patriarchal Underworld. In addition to this, a study of Skiageneia's connection to Callistes, the mortal man who is privy to the powerful events during Skiageneia's day upon the earth, and the power of his voracious gaze further complicates her space within this poem. Callistes's gaze and, later, his words, establish a voyeuristic power over Skiageneia that limits her personal agency and casts a shadow on her day of freedom. Callistes's power to affect Skiageneia aligns him with another male of great strength, Hades, who also controls Skiageneia's fate within the poem. Meredith's tense, but achingly beautiful, portrayal of Skiageneia's problematic matrilineal inheritance and her close interaction with men who hold power over her physical and emotional being reveals a woman forced to maneuver within seemingly overwhelming obstacles while trying to maintain some sense of self.
Meredith's complicated handling of such significant obstacles accounts for some of the critical unease surrounding "The Day of the Daughter of Hades." The initial critical response to Meredith's 1883 book of poetry, Poems and Lyrics of the Joy of Earth, was more favorable than the response to his earlier poetic attempts. Critics for periodicals such as the St. James's Gazette, the Pall Mall Gazette, and the Contemporary Review generously reviewed and critiqued Meredith's 1883 endeavor. (1) Each of the periodicals singled out "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" as an example of Meredith's poetic prowess. The reviewer for the St. James's Gazette mentions the "deep pathos" within the poem, but he also makes note of the poem's ability to detail "with splendid effect the influences which may give worth to human life" (244). The unnamed critic for the Pall Mall Gazette proclaimed "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" the "finest" and "chief poem of the book" (246) but only focused his discussion on plot summery with a single line of analysis to support his claims for the poem. (2) The limited types of critical responses that these two reviews embody--a focus on the positivist qualities espoused within "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" and the use of summery in lieu of analysis--have become the primary methods of critical analysis, save a few exceptions, for the secondary study of this poem.
The next generation of critics to seriously engage "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" were mostly adherents to the second category of criticism, textual summery and explication in lieu of analysis. In his 1906 critical analysis, The Poetry and Philosophy of George Meredith, George Macaulay Trevelyan, noted Victorian critic, (3) devotes seven pages of text to summarizing "The Day of the Daughter of Hades." While his annotations interspersed with long quotes from the poem help the reader to gain a better understanding of this complicated poem, his unease with critically engaging the text suggests that the poem is solely important in terms of its plot and narrative qualities. (4) Even in critical texts devoted exclusively to Meredith's natural philosophies, "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" does not often figure as an important text for discussion. In Robert Peel's The Creed of a Victorian Pagan (1931), one of the earliest works devoted to Meredith's nature themes, he discusses the "Woods of Westermain" and "Melampus" (Poems and Lyrics of the Joy of Earth) as important nature poems. Even though both of these poems appear in the same volume of poetry as "The Day of the Daughter of Hades," the latter poem is only mentioned in one brief sentence as a "passionately beautiful" accompaniment to the other poems. In his 1961 work, A Troubled Eden: Nature and Society in the Works of George Meredith, Norman Kelvin quickly canvasses "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" by also focusing on the poem's positivism and life-affirming qualities. While it is impossible to characterize all early Meredith scholarship through a comparison of these few critics, the material point is that the texts that do mention or discuss "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" do not often devote long or meaningful analysis to the poem, thereby creating a legacy of nonchalance surrounding this work.
Unlike the first and second generations of critics who admire but do not seriously engage with "The Day of the Daughter of Hades," Meredith himself described it as "his most important poem, because it uttered his doctrine of defying life's sorrow and brevity" (Stevenson 249). Just as the author came to understand the importance of this poem, some modern critics have begun to acknowledge the complexity of thought contained within this work. In two separate chapters of her book Precarious Enchantment: A Reading of Meredith's Poetry, Carol L. Bernstein first focuses on Callistes's lyric persona and his importance as one of four types of Meredithian poetic "selves." Bernstein later discusses Skiageneia's physical and psychical presence in marginal spaces. Her analysis deepens previous criticism about the poem in that it considers 'The Day of the Daughter of Hades' as a complicated text: one that is concerned with characterization, style, and philosophic analysis as opposed to the beauty, abundance, and sorrow of the natural world. Renate Muendal continues Bernstein's critical legacy in her book George Meredith as she looks at varied elements within the poem such as Skiageneia's changing psyche, Callistes's role as artist, and the power inherent in the act of naming. This type of serious engagement with "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" reveals the growing realization that this poem contains more complexity than its reception history would suggest.
Building upon Bernstein and Muendal's work allows for continuity in the critical engagement of this text's poetic and narrative intricacies. "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" tells the story of Hades, Lord of the Underworld, and Persephone, the daughter of Demeter who was kidnapped by Hades and brought down to the Underworld to live as Hades's wife. After Hades kidnapped Persephone, Demeter, the Goddess who brings nature's bounty, could not help the Earth bloom because she was steeped in sorrow, so to appease the mournful Goddess, Zeus and Hermes brokered a deal wherein Persephone and Demeter can spend part of the year together. In "The Day of the Daughter of Hades," Meredith introduces Skiageneia, Hades and Persephone's beautiful but ill-fated daughter, who sneaks into Hades's chariot when he returns his wife to her mother. A young mortal man, Callistes, stumbles upon the chariot as Persephone is reunited with her mother, and he spies Skiageneia slip from the chariot. The two spend a wonderful day together before Hades returns to bring his daughter back to the realms of the Underworld.
An analysis of Meredith's use of female characters who inhabit positions of liminal space is essential to understand how Skiageneia and Callistes function within the action of this poem. Bernstein describes Skiageneia as a "border figure, whose major action is to slip in and out of life itself" (52). But it is not only Skiageneia who functions as a "border figure" in this poem; "Our Lady of the Sheaves' (Demeter) and the "Lily of Hades" (Persephone)5 also act as characters who are limited as to the space they inhabit and the agency they possess. All three women in this poem are restrained by the overwhelming power embodied in Hades and, occasionally, in Callistes. To comprehend the paradox of personal agency within "The Day of the Daughter of Hades," it is necessary to examine the space of femininity and matriarchal lineage in the shadow of a powerful patriarchy.
The matriarchal legacy contained within this poem is one of nature and creation stifled by the powerful darkening forces of the underworld. Before Meredith introduces Skiageneia, he narrates a detailed, highly emotional encounter between Demeter and Persephone. This meeting, and the invocation of the myth it alludes to, frames Skiageneia's narrative within the story of her mother and grandmother. Unfortunately, Demeter and Persephone's story is not idyllic or hopeful for the succeeding generation; it is the story of women who know only limited freedom. In stanza three, Meredith creates the tension between freedom and exile as the narrator relates Callistes's vision of the Goddess of the Harvest meeting with her kidnapped daughter. Both Goddesses are described as "very tall, most like / Fellow poplars" (III.30-31) with the inherent grace of poplar trees. Both women embrace "head to head, crossing throats" (33) as if to be so close as to inhabit the same space. Their shared space and the voraciousness of the "feast" (34) of their shared look is intimate and exclusive, so much so that "Darkness no longer could thwart" (35) their togetherness. But their exclusionary relationship is still not stronger than the power of Persephone's husband. Meredith positions the women so that their embrace takes place by Hades's chariot-wheel as if to remind the reader that the Lord of the Underworld should never be excised from this narrative.
So much of the Demeter/Persephone/Hades story centers upon the creation and destruction of nature that it is often possible to forget the larger themes of possession and thwarted agency inherent in the myth. Meredith, however, does not ignore these larger motifs. Trevelyan points out that in his nature poetry Meredith often writes about the meta-physicality of nature: "He excels in giving not merely the physical aspect of nature, but the spirit lurking beneath and expressed in her outward appearance" (44). Meredith imbues Persephone with an understanding of the limitations of her earthly freedom, revealed by the enigmatic character of her smile. In the same stanza quoted above, the narrator describes Persephone as unable to entirely give in to the happiness she must feel at seeing her mother. The narrator describes her as "grave" (38) because "She smiled like Sleep on its flood, / That washes of all we crave: / Like the trance of eyes awake / And the spirit enshrouded, she cast / The wan underworld on the lake" (38-43). Persephone's smile shows the deep and, in this case, saddened spirit beneath. Meredith's use of inversion in the latter part of this quote suggests that Persephone is both literally (a grammatical read of the sentence would suggest that "Like the trance of eyes awake / And the spirit enshrouded" modifies "she cast / The wan underworld on the lake") and figuratively shrouded and over-shadowed by the reality of the underworld.
According to the original myth, Demeter's happiness is dictated by Persephone's happiness; therefore, both Goddesses are held captive by Hades's power over Persephone. But Persephone also endeavors to "cast the wan underworld on the lake" (43) and throw off Hades's mantle of power. This is a willful act of forgetting or an attempt to mitigate Hades's hold on the mother and daughter. Of course, to some extent, Persephone's attempt to psychically distance herself from her husband is futile; the needs and desires of both women become marginalized to fit into a limited amount of time together, while the "wan underworld" maintains its power over these women.
The true beginning for Meredith's tale is when this maternal heritage of marginality is passed to the youngest member of this lineage, Persephone and Hades's daughter Skiageneia. Although Bernstein sees Skiageneia's past and future as the real frame for this narrative (53), I would suggest that Demeter and Persephone's meeting (indeed, the whole theme of an ill-fated mother-daughter inheritance) is a necessary frame for this poem. Skiageneia's place within this myth and, indeed, her role as the next generation of stymied femininity cannot be adequately intuited without Meredith's description of Demeter and Persephone's sorrow. Skiageneia first enters the poem when Callistes spies her near Demeter and Persephone's meeting place, and her arrival and first words, "Light! Light!" (VI.2), coincides with the sunrise and the beginning of day. Her voice ushers in the light of day, and for Callistes, this voice will also impart the light of knowledge. As Callistes and Skiageneia travel the length of the Sicilian fields and forests, Meredith catalogues birds, flowers, fruits, and vegetables as if to imply that Skiageneia's notice of these things brings them into being. She is a Goddess of nature and creation much akin to her grandmother.
However, this powerful and beautiful natural experience is only one-half of her paradoxical matrilineal legacy. In the heat of day, the beauty of her grandmother's world is overwhelming as Meredith layers one sensual image upon another in a barrage of feeling and freedom: "Now the meadows with crocus besprent, /And the asphodel woodsides she left, /And the lake-slopes, the ravishing scent / Of narcissus, dark-sweet" (VII.I-4). These sensual and stirring images continue with the "torrent-brook" (5) that "Delay[s] its forceful spleen / With many a wind and crook / Through rock to the broad ravine" (5 -8). Meredith conveys Skiageneia's heady interaction with the natural world, a world that is one-half of her familial legacy. For the first time, she seems to experience her power over nature--a power descending from her mother and grandmother--and the sensuality of its lush promises. As she shares this journey with Callistes, this new world seems, at first, to be free of threats and ripe with possibilities.
Meredith, however, is not content to leave Skiageneia to bask in her connection to the fecundity of the natural world; instead, he interrupts the budding sensuality of stanza seven with a seemingly innocuous scene that reminds us of Skiageneia's precarious position. It is noontime, and the oppressive heat is causing a flock of goats to gather around a tree in order to find relief from the sun. This in and of itself only seems to add one more piece of detail to Meredith's varied natural images; however, Skiageneia's enigmatic reaction to the goats changes the tenure of this ostensibly innocent scene. The narrator observes the "hour of the piercing shaft" (29) which "Transfixes bough-shadows" (30) and causes the goats to become "confused / In veins of fire" (30-31). Instead of sympathizing with the goats, Skiageneia "laughed, / With her quiet mouth amused, / To see the whole flock, adroop, / Asleep, hug the tree-stem as one, / Imperceptibly filling the loop / Of its shade at a slant of sun" (31-36). In this description, the sun's heat is oppressive and almost violent in its "veins of fire" that bind the flock, vainly searching for relief, against the tree. The animals appear almost completely helpless in this scenario, and the exact reason for Skiageneia's laugh is unknown. At first, it seems she is reacting to the visual pleasure of seeing so many goats wrapped around one tree. But the sheer helplessness of the scene in many ways mirrors Skiageneia's own thwarted agency due to her matrilineal legacy of liminal space. She, like the goats under the sun, has little or no room to maneuver under the oppressive force of her father's control and her banishment to the Underworld. Her laughter stems from the irony of the goats trying to escape their fate (the sun's violent rays) by pursuing the shade, while she is trying to escape the stifling shadows of the Underworld for the light of earth. The shadow of patriarchal power looms over Skiageneia's psychological space within this landscape.
Ultimately, Hades's shadowy power prevails over any freedom his daughter acquires in her role as castaway. When it becomes clear that Skiageneia can no longer fight night's onset and her father's return, she decides to willfully meet him on the shores of Lake Enna. This act is a statement of Skiageneia's strength, and it allows her to meet Hades as an equal, not as a runaway who must hide from her father. Many of the critics engaging this text see Skiageneia as a heroine in this sense; (6) she neither needs nor desires more than her one allotted day. Kelvin remarks that Skifigeneia "does not waste her time lamenting the brevity of her twenty-four hours in the light" (129). This statement is indeed true, but it might be an over-simplification to suppose that Skiageneia does not regret that she must return to the world she initially tried to run from. In stanza ten, Meredith silences Skiageneia but allows, instead, her smile to speak for her, and it is this smile that reveals her feelings:
So stood she awhile In the gloom of the terror afield, And the silence about her smile Said more than of tongue is revealed. I have breathed: I have gazed: I have been: It said: and not joylessley shone The remembrance of light through the screen Of a face that seemed shadow and stone. (X. 13-20)
Skiageneia's smile is framed by the terror of her father and the Underworld that she must face. The memory of Earth's light must shine "through the screen / Of a face that seemed shadow and stone." Because of the reality of leaving the place she has yearned for her entire life, Skiageneia has internalized some emotion (arguably regret) which causes her countenance to reflect the "shadow and stone" of the Underworld. Meredith places Skiageneia's accomplishments--"breathed," "gazed," and "been"--in the past tense, thereby suggesting that the actions might come to an end in the Underworld. Like the Platonic figure who can never again believe in the confines of his simple cave, Skiageneia has been indelibly marked by her trip into the light.
The image of "shadow and stone" combined with the comment that "Pale she drooped" (X.26) suggests that Skiageneia's role in this poem is not so much one who refuses to bemoan her situation, but one who realizes her inability to alter a powerful oppressor. Although Hades is her father, he brings a violent storm upon Skiageneia, and the "wrath of a Sovereign power" (IX. 18) turns his daughter into a "shuddering girl" (19) who becomes "dim as shades" (20). The "hurricane blackness" (X.24) of her father as he "raged / Through the wave like a boar of the wilds / From the hunters and hounds disengaged" (37-39) reveals the sheer force and violence of Hades's power. And Skiageneia is not insensible to this power. But her fear and sadness should not rob Skiageneia of any heroic qualities; rather, the young heroine simply acknowledges the irrepressible violence exerted by Hades over all the women in this poem.
But we must remember that Hades is not the only source of power within this poem; understanding Skiageneia's journey is only possible when one considers her relationship with the other main character, Callistes. His role as a voyeur and a powerful voice aligns him with Hades, yet he is also Skiageneia's chosen male companion. Examining the dual roles embodied in Callistes reveals another level of agency denied to Skiageneia. Callistes's constant surveillance and the voraciousness of his gaze mark him as a complicated site of male power. However, Meredith's refusal to idealize or condemn Callistes's gaze once again forces the narrative to navigate a difficult force of male power.
Throughout "The Day of the Daughter of Hades," Meredith's narrative voice is closely aligned with Callistes's observations as a third-party gazer. Laura Mulvey's essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," and her identification of the power inherent in the male gaze over the objectivity of the female subject is an appropriate theoretical tool to analyze Callistes's voyeuristic power. Mulvey asserts that "the man controls the film phantasy and also emerges as the representative of power in a further sense: as the bearer of the look of the spectator, transferring it behind the screen to neutralize the extra-diegetic tendencies represented by woman as spectacle" (12). Because of the normative male gaze, the female object is Othered and becomes a site at which both the male viewer and the voyeuristic audience merge. In stanza three, when Demeter and Persephone first meet, Meredith identifies Callistes as the ultimate voyeur, "And Callistes gazed, he gave / His eyeballs up to the sight" (III.21-22). The use of the word "gazed" as opposed to "looked" or "watched" is significant in that "gazed" connotes a romanticized or even eroticized form of watching. Also, the narrator's utilization of metonymy--Callistes gave his "eyeballs up to the sight"--suggests that his whole personhood is relegated to the action of this spectacle. From this point on, it is impossible to divorce Callistes from his powerful role as the viewer.
Mulvey's theory of the gaze focuses primarily upon the power of the seer to objectify the seen, but Meredith creates a more complicated paradigm with Callistes's visual powers. Throughout the poem, Callistes makes character judgments based on what he has seen. After the two young people have met, Callistes tries to intuit, without asking questions, Skiageneia's background. He depends on superficial and easily discernable qualities to judge her:
So young, a virgin, alone, Unfriended, having no fear, As Oreads have; no moan, Like the lost upon earth; no tear; Not a sign of the torch in the blood, Though her stature had reached the height When mantles a tender rud In maids that of youths have sight, If maids of our seed they be: (29-37)
From her youth and apparent naivete, Callistes judges Skiageneia to be a virgin, which connotes a woman inexperienced with the world, but seems at odds with the fact that she is unafraid of unfamiliar surroundings. Callistes also wonders that Skiageneia does not blush when in the company of a strange, young man. While none of these personality characteristics are based on any evidence other than Callistes's suppositions, they do, however, remain as Skiageneia's only overtly detailed personal qualities. In other words, Callistes's power as gazer to translate the action of this narrative also holds forth in his power of interpreter to explicate personal characteristics.
Callistes's voyeuristic machinations within the narrative are not exclusive; Skiageneia views all the loveliness of earth that was withheld during her youth in the Underworld. The difference between the two voyeurs is that Skiageneia surveys the natural world around her and tries to share her visions with Callistes. At the end of stanza six, Skiageneia delights in the vision of nature she has just shared with Callistes. She admires the work of her grandmother by "murmur[ing] that name of the dearth, / The Beneficent, Hers, who bade / Our husbandmen sow for the birth / Of the grain making earth full glad" (VI.61-64). She also contemplates life's opposite, death, by recalling her father, "She murmured that Other's: the dirge / Of life-light: for whose dark lap / Our locks are clipped on the verge / Of the realm where runs no sap" (65-68). She concludes by exclaiming, "We have looked on both!" (69). When she does not appropriate the sights above and below the earth, Skiageneia offers her vision and her gaze to Callistes as a shared act. It would have been entirely feasible for her to delineate her Underworld visions from Callistes's experience because he has only viewed Hades from a protected, above-ground location. Presumably, she does not usurp her vision--the power of her gaze--because she finds in the act of shared ideas another means to connect with Callistes.
But Skiageneia's shared visions and experiences do little or nothing to change her objectification by Callistes's gaze. A few lines after the passage quoted above, stanza seven ends by redirecting our attention to Callistes's power as gazer: "What links / Were these which made him her friend? / He eyed her, as one who drinks, / And would drink to the end" (VII.73-76). For Skiageneia, the links that bind each to the other as friends are their shared experiences of Earth and the Underworld. But it seems as if Meredith answers this question on behalf of Callistes with the last two cryptic lines. He will "eye" her until he is sated, yet satiation seems an indefinite and violent act. So, the question remains, "What links / Were these which had made him her friend?" Callistes's answer is to maintain a powerful gaze upon Skiageneia. This unending and one-sided gaze conflicts with Skiageneia's idea of a shared vision and reminds the reader that, even though she might wish differently, the power of the gaze remains with Callistes.
As Mulvey points out, the power of the male voyeur is not only commonplace within patriarchal societies, it is a cultural norm anywhere. However, Mulvey's idea of the audience and male voyeur merging is taken one step further in "The Day of the Daughter of Hades" as Callistes's powerful gaze corresponds with another powerful male gaze, Hades. It seems rather startling that Meredith would align Skiageneia's love interest with her oppressive father, yet the shadow of both men's gazes follow her throughout her day. As Meredith reminds us in his title, "The Day of the Daughter of Hades," Skiageneia has only one day to experience all she can aboveground because at nightfall she must return to her position as "the Daughter of Hades." Therefore, she depends upon Callistes to join her in her travels and to help her forget her impending doom (and, by proxy, forget her father). But Callistes is unable to do this. In stanza seven, Callistes recounts the stories of kings and heroes who now all reside in Hades. (7) He insists on talking about the history of civilization as opposed to the natural wonders they are experiencing in the forests of Enna. For Skiageneia, Callistes's stories are a betrayal of sorts because she has attempted to escape from all that he is now praising. She implores Callistes, "Sing, / O Muse! But she cried: Not of them! / She breathed as if breath had failed" (VII.99-101). In a scene that foreshadows her father's second arrival and the return of the Underworld's power over her, Callistes's words have caused Skiageneia to momentarily leave the safety and security of Sicily and return, in memory, to the place of her childhood captivity. Like Hades, Callistes has a very real and visceral power over Skiageneia.
To underscore the power of Callistes's words, Meredith depicts Skiageneia's first sign of weakness directly after she takes a stand against Callistes. Because of his Underworld musings, she too is returned to the place of her birth and its remembrance steals all the life from her. The narrator comments that, "her eyes, while she bade him desist, / Held the lost-to-light ghosts grey-mailed" (VII.102-103). Skiageneia's eyes that only see long dead ghosts are an interesting contrast to Callistes's eyes that can give themselves entirely to majestic sights. Because Skiageneia cannot dictate what will or will not be spoken of (even though this is her only day to enjoy freedom), she must beg Callistes not to speak of subjects so very painful to her. This effort literally drains her of all her energy: "A moment her body waned, / The light of her sprang and sank" (106-107). It is only when Skiageneia "looked at the sun" that "she regained / Clear feature, and she breathed deep" (108-109) and becomes replenished again. The irony of this is that in her underworld home there are no rays of light to refresh her. Therefore, any attempt to regain strength is only possible above ground, but because she has only one day, her efforts to escape her fate might be in vain. As Skiageneia wears a smile that is so reflective of her mother's smile in stanza three--the "wan smile" of the "flow of the river of Sleep, / On the mouth of the Shadow-Queen" (III. 110-112)--Skiageneia understands her inherited position of liminality. She is truly her mother's daughter now.
The power Callistes's words hold over Skiageneia in stanza seven foreshadows Hades's power play over his daughter through the act of naming. As Muendal observes, "naming an object has traditionally been associated with magic: what is named is called into existence" (29). In an almost apocalyptic return to Earth, Hades collects Skiageneia by using the hegemony of language to display his strength. As the "God of implacable brow" (X.36), Hades "raged / Through the wave like a boar of the wilds" (37-38) with "a name shouted hoarsely: his child's" (40). He is characterized as the ultimate violent force who rages, cleaves, and shouts, and his will is known and carried forth. But, as Muendal suggests, it is almost as if Hades is unable to carry away his child until he names her, (8) thereby claiming her as "his child." His process of naming and claiming establishes his absolute ascendancy over her personhood.
In this final confrontation, Skiageneia is forced to face her father's wrath alone because Callistes faints. Bernstein sees Callistes's black out as an escape tactic, "But Callistes faints when Skiageneia leaves, a convenient way of avoiding self-directed or rebellious thoughts" (27). Nevertheless, Skiageneia, in one of her most powerful stances, faces "the chariot fall"(XI.3). And it is the sound of Skiageneia's name that rings in the sky as she is carried back to the Underworld. But the origin of the voice that speaks her name is unclear. From the "deluge" (5) of the storm surrounding Hades's chariot, "one cry / From the vanishing gallop rose clear: /And: Skiageneia! The sky / Rang: Skiageneia! The sphere" (5-8). There are multiple possibilities for the identity of the speaker's voice. It could be that Skiageneia re-appropriates her name and shouts it out so that the whole universe rings with her voice. And with the reclamation of her name, Meredith might be reasserting Skiageneia's personal agency in a poem filled with instances where she must navigate within closed spaces. Or the natural world itself--the sky and the spheres--might be calling out to the young Goddess. Both of these possibilities suggest that Skiageneia will not go quietly back into the darkness of the Underworld.
However, the final lines of the stanza suggest that Hades might once again be asserting his power over Skiageneia through the act of naming. As the narrator notes that Skiageneia left Callistes "to rejoice, / Repine, yearn, and know not his aim, / The life of their day in her voice, / Left her life in her name" (9-12). If the essence of Skiageneia's life is left in the utterance of her name, then one must question the real parameters of her life, including the Underworld shadow that constantly looms over her. Acknowledging the limited strictures of Skiageneia's life suggests that Hades yells out her name in an absolute act of possession--the same act of possession that stole her mother from the natural world years before. The power of language enacted by Callistes over Skiageneia in stanza seven would then be transferred to Hades's powerful voice (established in stanza ten), enabling his darkness and physical prowess to remove her from the realm of the living.
In spite of the fact that Skiageneia is taken back to the underworld, she should not be viewed as a character who has been conquered by the obstacles placed before her. Even though she is subject to Callistes's consuming gaze and her father's physical and psychical control, Skiageneia leaves a lasting effect on the mortal realm. After the loss of such beauty and sensuality, Callistes is left to do nothing but "mourn" and "crave" (XII 13) "Of the secret he had divined / Of his friend of a day" (14-15). Because Skiageneia cannot sing her own song of beauty on Earth, Callistes is left to sing for her. Callistes sings "For men to be profited much / By her day upon earth" (4950), and he endlessly recounts "Of her voice, and her steps, and her touch / On the blossoms of tender Spring" (51-52), putting the power of gaze to use in reproducing the memory of her vision. By remaining in the collective memory of the mortal realm, Skiageneia overcomes the limitations inherent in her maternal legacy and paternalistic control. She truly becomes the site at which these matriarchal and patriarchal forces converge, and the poetry that comes out of that convergence, the song that Callistes sings until his own death, stands as the one gift that Meredith can give to this heroine. As Skiageneia remains the "beacon where beam there is none" (80), Meredith and Callistes together celebrate her as the Goddess who shines out of the darkness of liminality.
Works Cited and Consulted
Bernstein, Carol L. Precarious Enchantment: A Reading of Meredith's Poetry. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic U of America P, 1979.
Fletcher, Ian. Meredith Now: Some Critical Essays. New York: Barnes & Noble, Publishers, 1971.
Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969.
Kelvin, Norman. A Troubled Eden: Nature and Society in the Works of George Meredith. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1961.
Meredith, George. The Poems of George Meredith. Ed. Phyllis B. Bartlett. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1978.
Muendal, Renate. George Meredith. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986.
Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Screen. 16 (Aug. 1975): 6-18.
Olmsted, John Charles. George Meredith: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism 1925-1975. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1978.
Orsini, Daniel J. "George Meredith and Evolutionary Altruism." Studies in the Humanities. 9 (Sept. 1982): 15-23.
Peel, Robert. The Creed of a Victorian Pagan. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1931.
Singh, Pratap. George Meredith: The Poet. Ram Nagar, New Delhi: S. Chand & Co., 1973.
Stevenson, Lionel. The Ordeal of George Meredith: A Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1953.
Trevelyan, George Macaulay. The Poetry and Philosophy of George Meredith. London: Archibald Constable and Company, Ltd., 1906.
Williams, loan, ed. Meredith: The Critical Heritage. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1971.
(1) All three reviews can found in loan Williams's Meredith: The Critical Heritage.
(2) The Pall Mall Gazette reviewer ends his critique with this one line of critical insight: "Altogether the poem is of strong and fine temper, and a notable addition to a kind of serious lyric in which few have excelled" (246).
(3) Some of Trevelyan's many books concerning Victorian life and culture include British History in the Nineteenth Century (1922), History of England (1926), and English Social History (1944).
(4) I do not mean to suggest that Trevelyan's book is shallow or cursory in its overall examination of Meredith's poetry, nor is it belittling in its treatment of "The Day of the Daughter of Hades." In point of fact, Trevelyan seems impressed with the poem's structure and narrative qualities going so far as to say that it is "adorned indeed with more lyrical beauty and philosophic meaning than is usual in poems that tell a story" (52). He also sees it as a skillful re-telling and re-appropriation of a classic myth (9697).
(5) Even though Meredith does not name these two characters Demeter and Persephone within the poem, his use of "Hades" and the Demeter/ Persephone myth enables most, if not all, critics to feel justified in using these names. While Meredith's hesitancy to name these women is a point of critical scholarship that I will not attempt to discuss in this paper, I am going to follow suit and use the names Demeter and Persephone for the sake of brevity.
(6) The unnamed reviewer for the Pall Mall Gazette states that the poem embodies and "celebrates" the idea of "the good which man has in that he simply lives and shares in the seasons" (246). The reviewer for the St. James Gazette concurs with the latter critic with his emphasis on Skiageneia's journey as portraying only the positive aspects of life: "But in the incidents of her 'holiday of delight' Mr. [sic] Meredith describes with splendid effect the influences which may give worth to human life" (244).
(7) Callistes talks about past heroes in lines 93 to 99 in stanza seven:
With his joy of the godlike band And the verse divine, he named The chiefs pressing hot on the strand, Seen of gods, of Gods aided, and maimed. The fleetfoot and ireful; the King; Him, the prompter in stratagem, Many shifted and masterful
(8) Muendal defines Skiageneia's name as "Born of a Shade," although she does not explain where this explication comes from. Assuming this interpretation is correct, Skiageneia's name would further associate her with a matriarchal lineage defined by its connection to a shadowy patriarchy.
University of Delaware
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|Publication:||Studies in the Humanities|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2007|
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