Narcissuses, Medusas, Ophelias... Water Imagery And Femininity In The Texts By Two Decadent Women Writers

  • Viola Parente-Čapková
  • Published 2006


In the fin-de-siècle art and literature, women and water are tightly connected, as it is clear from many icons of womanhood associated with water popular with the Symbolist and Decadent artists and writers. Water has been traditionally connected with life, birth and re-birth, creation and creativity, but also with death and oblivion. The water surface often serves as a kind of a mirror. As Bram Dijkstra points out, in many works of art the "natural mirror" of water appears as the source of woman's being "from which, like Venus, she had come and to which, like Ophelia, she was destined to return" (Dijkstra 1986, 132). Venus/Aphrodite, "born of the sea foam," the "goddess of love and beauty, poetry and art, laughter and lovemaking," can be seen as an empowering symbol of the "New Woman," as the feminist interpretations of Kate Chopin's Awakening have shown (e.g. Gilbert 1984). The "decorous," mad Ophelia, "committing herself to a watery grave" (cf. Dijkstra 1986, 42-48), suited more the Decadent mode. As a kind of a counterpart to the passive Ophelia in the fin-de-siècle art and literature we can see Medusa, who, with her "paralyzing eyes and bestial proclivities was the very personification of all that was evil in the gynander" (Dijkstra 1986, 309), the masculine woman-monster about which Decadents fantasised and which they dreaded. The motif of the mirror and reflection unites Medusa with Ophelia: Ophelia can be considered a mirror, a reflection of man for whom and through whom she exists.

Cite this paper

@inproceedings{Parenteapkov2006NarcissusesMO, title={Narcissuses, Medusas, Ophelias... Water Imagery And Femininity In The Texts By Two Decadent Women Writers}, author={Viola Parente-{\vC}apkov{\'a}}, year={2006} }