Sharon Yang (English) knows full well the joy that comes from persistence in academic research. She’s been studying the female pastoral figure in literature since she examined the figure in 19th century British novels for her dissertation.
“I kept seeing the same figure over and over again,” she said. The dissertation finished, she decided to examine the pastoral figure in sixteenth and seventeenth century British drama.
The female pastoral figure can take three different forms: the goddess; the mage or magician; or the wise woman who uses magic, witty game playing, advice, penance or tests of virtue to guide the other characters to a better understanding of themselves and their relationship to society. All have power.
“The goddess Venus, for example, represents divine or courtly love,” Yang said. “It’s a love in service to divinity.”
The mage has studied alchemy and sacred arts, and so becomes more like a god, she said. The mage comes against the idea that women cant have power.
She notes that wise women, who are educated and know how to use language to maintain order, often employing magic to do so, are not usually depicted as sexual. The pastoral figure Felicia, for example, is modeled on Diana, the goddess of chastity.
“The Faithful Shepherdess,” one of the plays Yang has studied, includes a female pastoral guide who is chaste and wise and heals people. She gets her powers from Pan, the god.
“My work shows that there aren’t really monolithic ways of looking at gender roles,” Yang said. “There’s negotiated space between the genders.”
Yang’s labor of love has taken seven years. She works on the manuscript each summer. “When you have a 4/4 teaching load, that’s when you can write,” she said.
Her 2007-08 mini-grant, Book Project: Goddesses, Mages and Wise Women: The Female Pastoral Guide in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century British Drama, enabled Yang to hire an editor to help prepare the manuscript for publication.
“After several years of revising the 350-page manuscript, I needed a fresh and professional eye to review it,” she said.
Yang joined the Worcester State faculty in 1999. In August 2007, Cambridge Scholars published a book she edited, “The X-Files and Literature: Unweaving the Story, Unraveling the Lie to Find the Truth.” Its another book project she spent summers on.
Such a feat, two book projects in progress at the same time—requires passion. And perhaps a bit of magic.
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