Fighting For the Lost Glory of Greece…remix

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.

Evadne’s situation can also be seen as representing that of the prospective future of England. Shelley wrote “The Last Man” at a time when the major second generation poets of the Romantic period had mostly died off and the first generation was aging or dead as well. Evadne’s state (and thus that of Greece) is perhaps reflective of what Shelley feared may be coming for England. She may have feared that England would fall into similar ruin once the last of the Romantics were gone. The idealistic fervor of the Romantics began to wane with the failure of the French Revolution and ultimately would die with them. Shelley feared that the future of England would bring a “Farewell to the giant powers of man” (321), such as art and science. These anxieties are shown in the Evadne’s prophecy.

In her prophecy, Evadne says “I have sold myself to death, with the sole condition that [Raymond] shoul[d] follow me” (181). I think that this link between Evadne and Raymond’s deaths is the most telling idea contained in the prophecy. With the death of the former glory of Greece, Raymond dies too. Raymond is analogous to Lord Byron who seems to be abstracted into a representation of the glory of Romanticism, here depicted as similar to classical Greece as a cultural pinnacle of mankind. This link between the deaths of the two characters seems to suggest that if the English allow the glory of classical Greece to die, the death of their own glory will be guaranteed. In the degraded state of Greece, the Romantics can see the reflection of their own harrowing future. To allow the glories of Greece to die would be to allow their own culture’s triumphs of human spirit to die.

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~ by rollingrock33 on November 15, 2012.

One Response to “Fighting For the Lost Glory of Greece…remix”

  1. This post is very original in arguing that “The Last Man” not only offers a critique of high Romantic ideals, but a political critique of England as an empire in decline, on the verge of becoming a “ruin” like ancient Greece. Very smart interpretation! I do wonder, however, if you can really say that Evadne lacks complete agency in this novel. Yes, she is a helpless victim, but, after all, she is also the harbinger of death, destruction, and plague–a feminine force that obliterates men’s political domination worldwide!

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