Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Muse and Succubus: Exploring the Role of Nimue in Edward Coley Burne-Jones's "The Beguiling of Merlin" through Cultural Translation
by Quinones Vila, Claudia, M.A., The American University of Paris (France), 2013, 119; 10305707
Abstract (Summary)

The idea of cultural translation presupposes a relationship between two or more cultures, brought together through the use of language, which is used to transmit ideas and norms. This paper explores the way in which certain individuals of one culture appropriated and repurposed texts from another culture for use in their personal artworks. In this case, members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, localized in Victorian England, often took inspiration from medieval sources and folklore. One of the members of the Brotherhood, Edward Burne-Jones, often incorporated the Arthurian legend as a theme in his own artwork. What I investigate in further depth is the level of exchange between the original text and the ensuing artwork, focusing on The Beguiling of Merlin (1873–1877). In particular, I focus on the translation of word into image with the attending cultural factors that accompany this painting. To do so, I look at Burne-Jones’s sources for the painting, including Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur and Lord Tennyson’s The Idylls of the King. My main inquiry is to determine to what extent Burne-Jones projected his own preconceived and romanticized notions of medieval life onto his artwork, and what this implies for its interpretation. In addition, I investigate the roles played by sexuality and morality both in the original texts and the subsequent artistic rendering of the same. The figure of Nimue is central to this analysis, as she is the prototype of the femme fatale, the female destructive force who sucks the life force from her male lover. I wish to scrutinize the relationship between Merlin and Nimue and how it parallels that of Burne-Jones as artist and his mistress Maria Zambaco as his muse. I also trace the effects of the myth of the Biblical figure of Lilith on the finished painting. The goal of this project is to test the boundaries of what cultural translation means, and how it takes place in a nonliteral but nevertheless effective fashion when the Pre-Raphaelites find medieval writings and make them their own, utilizing Burne-Jones as a case study, and to determine how the painting’s subject serves as an analogy for the artist’s predicament.

Female sexuality, Arthurian revival, Pre-Raphaelites, Art and Culture, Word and Image

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Rosenstein, Roy
Commitee: Kinne, Elizabeth
School: The American University of Paris (France)
Department: Cultural Translation
School Location: France
Source: MAI 56/02M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Medieval literature, Art history, British and Irish literature
Keywords: Arthurian, Burne-Jones, Edward, Female sexuality, Malory, Thomas, Sir, Painting, Pre-Raphaelites, Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson, Baron
Publication Number: 10305707
ISBN: 978-1-369-49271-2
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