"We are the lost": Recovering the Feminist and Transcultural Complexity of Mermaids in Literature
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Among the many fantastical creatures, the mermaid figure has fascinated writers and artists throughout the ages. The representation of the mermaid figure tends to be consistent: grounded in Western heritage, the mermaid’s alluring beauty and sexualised body are overtly stressed and confine her to a place of objectification. However, such a reductive representation of her femininity and her cultural roots does not do justice to the mermaid’s complexity and paints a monolithic understanding of her figure. Moreover, the connections between mermaids and women exacerbate the implications of such a reductive paradigm. Thus, this project studies the feminist and transcultural complexity of mermaids in literature. The aim is to counter the mermaid’s objectification and to create more complex meanings for her figure. Therefore, this project centres on the mermaid figure in different literary genres, including The Arabian Nights, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s Undine, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Kamila Shamsie’s Broken Verses and Imogen Hermes Gowar’s The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. This work will undertake a comparative analysis of the mermaid figure in these works, reading her through a French feminist framework. This project shows that the mermaid figure in literature challenges her objectified and monolithic representations. It is through her irrational and liminal means that the mermaid figure contests the rational, phallogocentric order. Such a feminist opposition is recurrent in all the studied primary works and thus strengthens the mermaid’s transcultural place. This project aims to broaden the traditional place of fairy tales by stressing the interconnectedness of realist and fantastic fiction.