Fighting for the Lost Glory of Greece

Evadne represents the greatness of the golden age of Greece and Greek culture. She is from Greece and her hair is compared to that “of a Grecian Statue” (The Last Man 109). Her degraded state reflects that of Greece at the time, which was in a war for its independence from Turkey. The walls of her apartment are “ragged and bare” (109) and her general condition is described as “drear and heart sickening poverty” (109). Such was Greece’s lot in the early 1800s. Greece had fallen into poverty and its great culture was in a corrupted state. Greece had once been great, but, to protect itself from destruction and ruin, had agreed to join the Roman Empire. This is reflected in Evadne’s arranged marriage to “a wealthy Greek merchant settled at Constantinople” (111). The choice of Constantinople here is not without purpose. Constantinople was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, which ruled over Greece. The Roman Empire, however, fell, leaving Greece unprotected, just as the ruin of Evadne’s husband left her unprotected. Evadne’s condition in chapter eight is precisely that of her homeland: degraded and impoverished, yet fiercely proud. Her attitude towards her poverty sounds like a rousing call for Greeks to battle for their independence against the Turks. She asks “Shall I bow my head before them, and with servile gesture sell my nobility for life?” (111-112). The answer, for Greece and for Evadne, is a resounding no.

I think that Evadne is different from the other mythic female figures that we have examined in Romantic poetry so far. Evadne, while certainly admirable, seems to, at least at the moment that we see her here, lack the agency and power of the other female figures.  While Evadne’s poverty is detailed by Shelley, the Abyssinian maid of “Kubla Khan” seems exalted and the only description of her is her music. She plays a dulcimer and sings a song so beautiful that it ignites in the speaker an intense desire to “build [Kubla’s pleasure] dome in air” (“Kubla Khan” 46). Most of the mythic female figures that we have studied have fulfilled a similar role. They are creative forces of inspiration that imbue the world with beauty and complexity. Evadne also does this through her work for the national gallery, but, because of her ruined condition, we can imagine how much more she is capable of. The Abyssinian maid is not in the same degraded circumstances as Evadne and can sing her sweetest songs. Evadne’s impoverished condition serves as a battle cry to restore all of the former wonder and grandeur of Greece so that Greece can once again sing songs as beautiful as that of the Abyssinian maid.

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~ by rollingrock33 on November 8, 2012.

2 Responses to “Fighting for the Lost Glory of Greece”

  1. I think you have a very nice close reading here, and your arguments for what Evadne represents are well represented. However, I also think you may be missing some of the significant aspects of Evadne’s description.

    When Mary Shelley catalogs the downtrodden state of Evadne’s home (and even Evadne herself), there’s also a part that reads “-yet in the midst of such drear and heart sickening poverty, there was an air of order and cleanliness that surprised him” (109). This is subtle, but since it is used at the very as the final thought of Raymond when he first sees Evadne’s home, it may also be the most important. This line signifies that there is much more to this character than the ragged appearance will suggest.

    Similarly, when describing Evadne herself, Shelly writes, “her garb was mean, but her attitude might have been selected as a model of grace” (109). Once again, this positive spin at the end of descriptions hints at something deeper and more significant hidden within the character. Finally, Raymond also calls Evadne his “Princess in disguise” (110). This seems to be the most telling moment of Evadne’s introductory passage. He does not say former princess, as someone who once had power/prestige/etc, but instead uses phrasing which suggests that there is still currently a princess hiding beneath her ruin-like visage.

    So I do think you are correct on two primary accounts: One that Evadne represents “the greatness of the golden age of Greece and Greek culture” while also representing that “Greece had fallen into poverty and its great culture was in a corrupted state. Greece had once been great…” Also, I agree with your assertion that Evadne is very unique in regards to the powerful women figures encountered in our class.

    But consider this. Most of these other women are impressive in their appearance as great beings, whether they be gods, representations of gods, or other divinely connected beings. Evadne on the other hand is impressive DESPITE her appearance – I think you need to remember this. There actually is a “Princess in disguise” there, and the splendor of one of these great mythological women figures may be hiding beneath her pitiful exterior. I am reminded of Keats’ Moneta in The Fall of Hyperion at this moment, when she says, “What haven? Every creature hath its home; / Every sole man hath days of joy and pain, / Whether his labours be sublime or low” (171-173). Despite their differences, I think Moneta describes Evadne’s situation very well here. Her appearance may be ragged and poor, but that does not exclude her from “days of joy and pain,” and her home is a home whether or not it is an actual haven. Therefore I think Evadne, along with what you have said, also represents the beauty and splendor of Greece hidden behind its outer layer of dirt.

  2. I think that it is very novel of you to suggest that Evadne is different from any of the mythic female figures we have seen before. I think that we can definitely see her in Moneta and especially in the Abyssinian Maid. While I don’t believe that there is too much of a difference between Evadne and these two, it may have been insightful of you to point out the dissimilarities. In seeing the difference we may make an inference to the true role the Evadne plays in “The Last Man” because we must remember that in dealing with Mary Shelley we have a female viewpoint of these figures that we haven’t really observed with Keats or Percy Shelley. I agree that Mary Shelley is using Evadne as sort of a symbol for Greece; something that is beautiful and to be admired even in ruin. However, I think that it is important to address that Shelley wants us to look at the ruins of Evadne and of Greece and see the future of England. At any rate I enjoyed your post, very good close reading and you seem ready to make some groundbreaking revisions.

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