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Product details Format Paperback pages Dimensions Review quote "A masterpiece. About Rebecca West Rebecca West was a novelist, biographer, journalist, and critic. She published eight novels in addition to her masterpiece Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, for which she made several trips to the Balkans.

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Sign up now. I posit West begins her text with this, to suggest that the home a happy Ulysses would return to is being reshaped and reconstructed in unforeseen and perhaps threatening ways by the effects of modernity. I must speak to my husband at once. A most terrible thing has happened. The King of Yugoslavia has been assassinated. West decides to break from this tradition to go and see and account for what is happening in the Balkans and thereby the world.

In a modern world, West equates her ignorance of the events in the Balkans with ignorance of her own destiny. Here again we see the purpose for the desire to journey driven by the fear of war instead of the traditional reason of the Homeric epics, where journeying happens to fight war and then the return to restore order at home or in terms of the Vergillian epic to found a new patriarchal space i.

In fact, West makes clear to her husband that she wants to bring him to show him the wonderful things about the Balkans that she cannot tell him. And so she leaves open the possibility of a mutually beneficial and peaceful viewing by the English journeying to the Balkans. This implies a modern epic prerogative to have two worlds meet for unity or understanding instead of in hostility. Constantine is the fictionalised characterization of the real life Stanislav Vinaver, who was the Press Bureau chief for the Yugoslav government based out of Sarajevo. Why should Western Cretins drool their spittle on our sacred things?

Nonetheless, women appear throughout the text, histories and mythologies as symbols and motivations directly influencing nation-building and cultural identity.


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For instance, when West is traveling through Bosnia, Constantine tells about the mythology and customs surrounding St. He describes how Slavic women were used as a distraction and bait against the invading Turks.

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The women were sent out to the nearby forest of the town and told to sing and dance. Then when the Turks heard them singing and saw them dancing they thought […] the fortress would be like a ripe fruit in their hands. But since they were always like wolves for women, they left their ladders and they ran down to rape the poor little ones before they started looting and killing in the town.


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When they were in the woodlands and marshes down by the river the Christians rose from their ambush and destroyed them. And the little ones who had been so brave went back to the city they had saved, and for a few more years they were not slaves [33]. This story exemplifies how women are literally set up to, not only defend and sacrifice themselves for the state, but also how they can later be made into symbols of state. Constantine explains that the tradition continues every St.

And in this defending, sacrificing and symbolising they are made honorouble women for men. De Beauvoir states,. A myth always implies a subject who projects his hopes and his fears towards a sky of transcendence. Women do not set themselves up as subject and hence have erected no virile myth in which their projects are reflected […] woman has only a secondary part to play in the destiny of […] heroes [35].

We see the fears and anxieties towards women reflected in the character of Circe in The Odyssey.

The way that women are mythologised and culturally constructed reflects religious constructions as well. In one instance, when West is watching an unconventional take on a traditional Yugoslavian dance, Constantine critically states,. A woman must not spring about like a man to show how strong she is and she must not laugh like a man to show how happy she is. She has something else to do.

She must go round wearing heavy clothes, not light at all, but heavy, heavy clothes, so that she is stiff, like an icon, and her face must mean one thing, like the face of an icon, and when she dances she must move without seeming to move, as if she were an icon held up before the people [39]. In another example, West is disconcerted when she encounters a group of Turkish prostitutes:. I went over to the girl at the loom and stood beside her, looking down on her hands, as if I wanted to see how a carpet was made.

But she did nothing, and suddenly I realised she was angry and embarrassed. She did not know how to weave a carpet any more than I do [40]. It also recalls Arachne who boasted that she was as skilled at weaving as Athena and was challenged by her, who turned her into a spider for daring to defy her. Bennett suggests that weaving is the most valued feminine activity next to bearing children Bennett However, like all traditional feminine arts, weaving creates the possibility for deception, illusion and trickery.

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Clare Colquitt suggested that Gerda presents just as large a threat to Constantine, who is also a Jewish Serb, as Germany threatens Yugoslavia, and Europe at large. West understands that there is no escape from Gerda or from German fascism. These descriptions evoke how women are traditionally fixed in society as allegorical symbols of home and family but also hold the mystery of life and death.


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West brilliantly and poetically conceives of this visibility whilst witnessing an old peasant woman walking up a path in Montenegro. West implores her reader,. Could the mind twitch away the black curtain behind the stars, it might be dazzled by a brightness brighter than the stars, which might be the battle-field for another splendid conflict as yet not conceived. It was towards this splendour that the woman was leading, as we passed her later, leaving the road and treading over the turf among gentians which she did not see. In this representation, West shows us a woman leaving into the unknown, again asking: will she return?

Thus the conscious existence or a wily wanderer through the Balkans might expect quite a different outcome than the almost unquestioned success of Odysseus when he reemerges at his fatherland. When West views the woman walking away into the unknown, it is implied that her journey and her landscape may not lead to an awakening from death but perhaps further into death.

As it is a woman who is seen journeying, and I have demonstrated that women can be allegories of death, this connection is more likely. And yet West creates a specifically modern illusion of vitality and personality. I am never sure of the reality of what I see, if I have seen it only once; I know that until it has firmly established its objective existence by impressing my senses and my memory, I am capable of conscripting it into the service of a private dream [54].