Purity and Perversion: Renée Vivien’s Ophelia Poetry

Arianna Marmo


This article will discuss the way Ophelia’s end is portrayed by the fin de siècle poet Renée Vivien's two French poems “La Chanson d’Ophélie” and “A la perverse Ophélie”. It will examine how, between the first and the second poem, Vivien’s Ophelia shifts from an image of purity and purification of sins by water, as suggested by some previous French poets rewriting the heroine’s death such as Rimbaud, to an icon of perversion who embodies the ambiguities and the demonic aspects of the decadent female figure. First translating Gertrude’s lyricism towards the heroine’s end and imitating the Bard, then challenging his authorship and reshaping a poetical feminine space where men are excluded, Vivien seems to place her poetry and her Ophelia in an agonistic position with respect to the English canon. The poetic imaginary of Ophelia’s drowning in deathly waters blends with other literary references as it is regenerates in another cultural context.

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New Readings — ISSN: 13597485

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Published by: Cardiff School of Modern Languages