The Pygmalion Syndrome in Victorian Art and Literature

This week a concept that caught my attention was the fixed or static ways women are conceived of and idealized in a lot of the art and literature we discuss. In relating this idea to Pygmalion, as is often done in different feminist and art-critical theories, I discovered that George Bernard Shaw wrote a play on the subject along with other Victorian dramatists influenced by this myth. Not only does this myth and its accompanying implications seem pervasive in the world of drama, but in Victorian fashion as well. Especially in our discussions of Aubrey Beardsley’s works for The Savoy, I noticed that a lot of depictions of women and women’s fashion at the time are very statuesque. This seems to be a way to elevate and immobilize women all at once. The rococo styling in Beardsley’s illustration of The Rape of the Lock seems to speak to this  intention in a couple ways. It’s almost as if decadence and opulence have this way of obscuring the shifting, developing, and contradictory personhood underneath. In focusing on decorating people, the people tend to become decorations themselves and nothing more. Also by heaping expectations to be “the angel in the house” but at the same time interesting people who can deviate from this formula and be “bad” in an exciting way, the pedestal becomes an even more fraught position to occupy.

-Eli

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