Jane Ellen Harrison (9 September 1850 – 15 April 1928) was a British classical scholar and linguist. With Karl Kerenyi and Walter Burkert, Harrison is one of the founders of modern studies in Ancient Greek religion and mythology. She applied 19th-century archaeological discoveries to the interpretation of ancient Greek religion in ways that have become standard. She has also been credited with being the first woman to obtain a post in England as a 'career academic'.[1][2][3] Harrison argued for women's suffrage but thought she would never want to vote herself.[4] Ellen Wordsworth Crofts, later second wife of Sir Francis Darwin, was Jane Harrison's best friend from her student days at Newnham, and during the period from 1898 to her death in 1928.

Jane Ellen Harrison
Drawing of Harrison in later life, wearing a hood.
1925 portrait of Harrison by Théo van Rysselberghe
Born(1850-09-09)9 September 1850
Cottingham, Yorkshire, England
Died15 April 1928(1928-04-15) (aged 77)
Bloomsbury, England
Resting placeSt Marylebone cemetery, East Finchley
Alma materCheltenham Ladies' College; Newnham College, Cambridge
Occupation(s)Classicist and linguist
Organization(s)Lecturer, Newnham College, 1898–1922
Known forOne of the founders of modern studies in Greek mythology
AwardsTwo honorary doctorates, an LLD from University of Aberdeen in 1895 and DLitt from the University of Durham in 1897.

Life and career edit

Harrison was born in Cottingham, Yorkshire on 9 September 1850 to Charles and Elizabeth Harrison.[5] Her mother died of puerperal fever[5] shortly after she was born and she was educated by a series of governesses. Her governesses taught her German, Latin, Ancient Greek and Hebrew, but she later expanded her knowledge to about sixteen languages, including Russian.

Harrison spent most of her professional life at Newnham College, the progressive, recently established college for women at Cambridge. At Newnham, one of her students was Eugenie Sellers, the writer and poet, with whom she lived in England and later in Paris and had a relationship with as her partner.[6] Mary Beard described Harrison as '... the first woman in England to become an academic, in the fully professional sense – an ambitious, full-time, salaried, university researcher and lecturer'.[7]

Between 1880 and 1897, Harrison studied Greek art and archaeology at the British Museum under Sir Charles Newton.[8] Harrison then supported herself lecturing at the museum and at schools (mostly private boy's schools). Her lectures became widely popular and 1,600 people ended up attending her Glasgow lecture on Athenian gravestones. She travelled to Italy and Germany, where she met the scholar from Prague, Wilhelm Klein. Klein introduced her to Wilhelm Dörpfeld who invited her to participate in his archaeological tours in Greece. Her early book The Odyssey in Art and Literature then appeared in 1882. In 1888, she began to publish in the periodical that Oscar Wilde was editing called The Woman's World on "The Pictures of Sappho". She ended up translating Mythologie figurée de la Grèce (1883) by Maxime Collignon as well as providing personal commentary to selections of Pausanias, Mythology & Monuments of Ancient Athens by Margaret Verrall in the same year. These two major works caused Harrison to be awarded honorary degrees from the universities of Durham (1897) and Aberdeen (1895).

Harrison was engaged to marry the scholar R. A. Neil, but he died suddenly of appendicitis in 1901 before they could marry.[9][10]

Harrison became the central figure of the group known as the Cambridge Ritualists. In 1903, her book Prolegomena on the Study of Greek Religion appeared. Harrison became close to Francis MacDonald Cornford (1874–1943), and when he married in 1909 she became extremely upset. She then made a new friendship with Hope Mirrlees, whom she referred to as her "spiritual daughter".[citation needed]

Harrison retired from Newnham in 1922 and then moved to Paris to live with Mirrlees. She and Mirrlees returned to London in 1925 where she was able to publish her memoirs through Leonard and Virginia Woolf's press, The Hogarth Press. She died at age 77 at her home in Bloomsbury. She was buried in St Marylebone Cemetery, East Finchley.[11]

Harrison was an atheist.[12][13]

Pamphlet title page from "Homo Sum" Being a Letter to an Anti-Suffragist from an Anthropologist by Jane E. Harrison LL. D.

Harrison was, at least ideologically, a moderate suffragist. Rather than support women's suffrage by protesting, Harrison applied her scholarship in anthropology to defend women's right to vote. In responding to an anti-suffragist critic, Harrison demonstrates this moderate ideology:

[The Women's Movement] is not an attempt to arrogate man's prerogative of manhood; it is not even an attempt to assert and emphasize women's privilege of womanhood; it is simply the demand that in the life of woman, as in the life of man, space and liberty shall be found for a thing bigger than either manhood or womanhood – for humanity. (84–85, Alpha and Omega)[14]

To this end, Harrison's motto was Terence's homo sum; humani nihil mihi alienum est ("I am a human being; nothing that is human do I account alien.")

Career edit

Scholarship edit

Harrison began formal study at Cheltenham Ladies' College, where she gained a Certificate, and, in 1874, continued her studies in the classics at Cambridge University's Newnham College. Her early work earned Harrison two honorary doctorates, an LLD from University of Aberdeen in 1895, and DLitt from the University of Durham in 1897. This recognition afforded Harrison the opportunity to return to Newnham College as a lecturer in 1898, and her position was renewed continuously until Harrison retired in 1922. She had been a candidate for the Yates Professor of Classical Art and Archaeology at University College London after Reginald Stuart Poole had died in 1895.[15] The hiring committee had recommended Harrison to the position, but that decision was blocked by Flinders Petrie in favor of Ernest Gardner. Petrie argued that while Harrison was an expert on religion, she did not have the knowledge base Gardner did, so he got the job and worked closely with Petrie for 30 years.[15]

Early work edit

Harrison's first monograph, in 1882, drew on the thesis that both Homer's Odyssey and motifs of the Greek vase-painters were drawing upon similar deep sources for mythology, the opinion that had not been common in earlier classical archaeology, that the repertory of vase-painters offered some unusual commentaries on myth and ritual. Her approach in her great work, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903),[16] was to proceed from the ritual to the myth it inspired: "In theology facts are harder to seek, truth more difficult to formulate than in ritual."[17] Thus she began her book with analyses of the best-known of the Athenian festivals: Anthesteria, harvest festivals Thargelia, Kallynteria [de], Plynteria, and the women's festivals, in which she detected many primitive survivals, Skirophoria, Stenia and Haloa.

Cultural evolution (or social Darwinism) edit

Harrison alluded to and commented on the cultural applications of Charles Darwin's work. Harrison and her generation depended upon anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor (who was himself influenced by Darwin and evolutionary ideas) for some new themes of cultural evolution, especially his 1871 work, Primitive Culture: researches into the development of mythology, philosophy, religion, language, art, and custom. After a socially Darwinian analysis of the origins of religion, Harrison argues that religiosity is anti-intellectual and dogmatic, yet she defended the cultural necessity of religion and mysticism. In her essay The Influence of Darwinism on the Study of Religion (1909), Harrison concluded:

Every dogma religion has hitherto produced is probably false, but for all that the religious or mystical spirit may be the only way of apprehending some things, and these of enormous importance. It may also be that the contents of this mystical apprehension cannot be put into language without being falsified and misstated, that they have rather to be felt and lived than uttered and intellectually analyzed; yet they are somehow true and necessary to life. (176, Alpha and Omega[18])

Later life edit

World War I marked a deep break in Harrison's life. Harrison never visited Italy or Greece after the war: she mostly wrote revisions or synopses of previous publications, and pacifist leanings isolated her. Upon retiring (in 1922), Harrison briefly lived in Paris, but she returned to London when her health began to fail. During the last two years of her life Harrison was living at 11 Mecklenburgh Square on the fringes of Bloomsbury.[19]

In literature edit

In A Room of One's Own (1929), in addition to female authors, Virginia Woolf also discusses and draws inspiration from Harrison. Harrison is presented in the essay only by her initials separated by long dashes, and Woolf first introduces Harrison as "the famous scholar, could it be J---- H---- herself?"[20]

The critic Camille Paglia (see Paglia's 1990 book Sexual Personae (passim), and the long essay "Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf" in Paglia's Sex, Art and American Culture: New Essays, 1993) has written of Harrison's influence on her own work. Paglia argues that Harrison's career has been ignored by second-wave feminists, who Paglia thinks object to Harrison's findings and efface the careers of prominent pre–World War II female scholars to bolster their claims of male domination in academe.

Tina Passman, in 1993 in her article "Out of the Closet and into the Field: Matriculture, the Lesbian Perspective, and Feminist Classics", discussed the neglect of Harrison by the academy, and tied that neglect to an unpopularity of lesbian perspectives in the field.[21][22]

Mary Beard's numerous essays and her book on Harrison's life, (The Invention of Jane Harrison, Harvard University Press, 2000), as well as several other biographies of Harrison, have moved the needle toward greater appreciation of Harrison's achievements, as well as further understanding of the context in which she worked.

Works edit

Greek topics edit

Books on the anthropological search for the origins of Greek religion and mythology, include:

Essays and reflections edit

See also edit

Notes edit

  1. ^ "Harrison, Jane (1850–1928) - Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism". www.rem.routledge.com.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 April 2018. Retrieved 24 March 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Mary Beard "Living with Jane Harrison", Archived 27 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine A Don's Life blog, The Times website, 22 May 2009.
  4. ^ Mary Beard, "My hero: Jane Ellen Harrison", The Guardian, 4 September 2010.
  5. ^ a b "Jane Harrison Collection". archiveshub.jisc.ac.uk. Retrieved 11 September 2019.
  6. ^ Davidson, James (29 July 2000). "Guardian review: The Invention Of Jane Harrison by Mary Beard". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 February 2022.
  7. ^ Beard, Mary (3 September 2010). "My hero: Jane Ellen Harrison". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  8. ^ Holly (1 October 2019). "Jane Ellen Harrison". cam.ac.uk. Retrieved 19 February 2022.
  9. ^ Robinson, Annabel (2002). Life and Work of Jane Ellen Harrison. Oxford University Press. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-19-924233-7.
  10. ^ "Neil, Robert Alexander". Who's Who: 880–881. 1901.
  11. ^ "Jane Harrison – Dictionary of Art Historians." Jane Harrison – Dictionary of Art Historians. Accessed 8 May 2013.
  12. ^ Rita R. Wright (2009). Jane Ellen Harrison's "Handmaiden No More": Victorian Ritualism and the Fine Arts. pp. 22–. ISBN 978-1-109-15132-9. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  13. ^ Gerald Stanton Smith (2000). D.S. Mirsky: A Russian-English Life, 1890–1939. Oxford University Press. pp. 105–. ISBN 978-0-19-816006-9. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  14. ^ Harrison, Jane Ellen (1915). Alpha and Omega. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. pp. 84–85.
  15. ^ a b Petrie, Flinders (1932). Seventy Years in Archaeology. New York: Henry Holt. p. 174.
  16. ^ "Once or twice in a generation a work of scholarship will alter an intellectual landscape so profoundly, that everyone is required to re-examine normally unexamined assumptions," Robert Ackerman begins his Introduction to the Princeton University Press reprint, 1991.
  17. ^ Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion p. 163.
  18. ^ Harrison, Jane Ellen (1915). Alpha and Omega. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. p. 176.
  19. ^ Wade, Francesca. Square Haunting (2020), Faber
  20. ^ Woolf, Virginia (1935) [1929]. A Room of One's Own. London: Hogarth Press. p. 26
  21. ^ Best, Nanny M. W. de Vries, Jan. Thamyris Vol 1.2. Rodopi.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  22. ^ Gold, Daniel (10 June 2003). Aesthetics and Analysis in Writing on Religion: Modern Fascinations. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-23614-1.

References edit

  • Harrison, Jane Ellen. Alpha and Omega. AMS Press: New York, 1973. (ISBN 0-404-56753-3)
  • Harrison, Jane Ellen, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, second edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1908. Internet Archive
  • Peacock, Sandra J. Jane Ellen Harrison: The Mask and the Self. Halliday Lithograph Corp.: West Hanover, MA. 1988. (ISBN 0-300-04128-4)
  • Robinson, Annabel. The Life and Work of Jane Ellen Harrison. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002 (ISBN 0-19-924233-X). The first substantial biography, with extensive quotes from personal letters.

Further reading edit

  • Barnard-Cogno, Camille. "Jane Harrison (1850–1928), between German and English Scholarship," European Review of History, Vol. 13, Issue 4. (2006), pp. 661–676.
  • Beard, Mary. The Invention of Jane Harrison (Harvard University Press, 2000); ISBN 0-674-00212-1
  • Stewart, Jessie G. Jane Ellen Harrison: a Portrait from Letters 1959. A memoir based on her voluminous correspondence with Gilbert Murray.

External links edit