Weaving the word: The metaphorics of weaving and female textual production

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Lindsey Tucker - Committee Chair


A culture records the symbols of its own heritage on the body of a textile, much like a text encodes a page. Drawing on anthropology, language theory, and analysis of Greek myths, as well as some late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century texts, this dissertation examines scenes of weaving wherein women transform a domestic craft into a tool for signification. In each of these stories, weaving is closely allied with the ancient, Indo-European definition of the verb "to weave," particularly its correlation with the weaving of poetry, spells, and prophecy. The stories of Arachne, Philomela, Penelope and Helen of Troy explore how different modes of weaving reflect the weaver's relationship toward the dominant culture; whereas Arachne weaves her tapestry with forbidden signs that style her as an outlaw, Penelope weaves a blank textile, indicating her identification with this society and acquiescence to her role within it. In no other work does William Blake give weaving such a prominent role as in The Four Zoas, wherein weaving embodies the artistic principle and is a counterpart to language--creating bodies simultaneous with words. Tennyson's poem, "The Lady of Shalott," inspired many Pre-Raphaelite artists. Their profuse depictions of her strongly suggest an identification with her role as an artist, yet in each of these pictures the artists choose to illustrate her in a failed relationship to her work. Weaving becomes secondary or incidental (mere decoration) to these portrayals.


Folklore; Art History; Women's Studies; Literature, English

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