Underworld Journeys In Kathryn Harrison's THE KISS And Alison Townsend's PERSEPHONE IN AMERICA
Engel, Michelle A.
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Kathryn Harrison's memoir The Kiss and Alison Townsend's poetry collection Persephone in America both employ elements of fairy tale and mythology as a template for biographical and autobiographical narratives. The Kiss covertly reinvents the myths of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella as creatures of the underworld through the use of blood imagery and metaphorical forbidden fruit as well as the inversion of the womb as a place of death- an underworld within the female body. Townsend adopts similar imagery while addressing issues of consciousness, mental illness, linguistic and emotional manipulation, and entrapment. Her poetry invokes Persephone as muse while also comparing and contrasting Demeter?s daughter to herself and women she has known. For both texts, the underworld is a realm of psychic transformation and healing, a fertile environment for the development of the narrative self. I investigate both how the myths and fairy tales chosen affect the narrative?s meaning and how one might create original, autobiographical works using similar motifs from fairy tales and mythology for inspiration. Secondary source material to further illuminate mythic and fairy tale references from the aforementioned primary works include the Homeric ?Hymn to Demeter;? Dante?s Divine Comedy; Giambattista Basile?s ?Sole Lune e Talia? from his collected Italian folktales, Il Pentamerone, or The Story of Stories; French author Charles Perrault?s ?La belle au bois dormant? or ?The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood?; several works collected by the Brothers Grimm, including ?All-Fur?; John Milton?s Paradise Lost; and, more recently, magical realist Angela Carter?s 1979 short story anthology ?The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories.? Additional scholarly sources relating to autobiography, feminist storytelling, menstruation and other topics of interest will be included, as well. The theme of abduction to the underworld resonates with many life experiences shared by both authors, including emotional trauma and sexual assault. Persephone?s mythology therefore offers a very useful template with which to consider the process of recovery through creativity. Violent fairy tales such as ?Little Red Riding Hood,? ?Sleeping Beauty,? and ?Cinderella? variants similarly map out a narrative for healing from the theft of one?s innocence. As both a reader of fairy tales and a creative writer, I learned a great deal from both primary texts through researching their mythical and fairy tale allusions and through piecing together my own creative works adapting similar imagery and subject matter. Romanticized versions of the above myths and fairy tales already pervade popular culture; therefore, they are powerful talismans when infused with the depth and gravitas from their original source texts and contextualized in a contemporary, autobiographical or biographical setting.
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