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Marina Warner Biography

(1946– ), The Dragon Empress

British cultural historian, novelist, and critic, born in London to an English father and an Italian mother, educated at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. Her first published work, The Dragon Empress (1972), a biography of Tzu His of China, was praised for its lavishly detailed recreation of a significant period of Chinese history. With Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary (1976), Warner initiated a feminist project of studying the mythology, symbolism, allegories, and icons surrounding the feminine in history; this innovative work combined analyses of religion and history with art and literary criticism. Two further studies of male mythologization of the feminine were Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism (1981) and Monuments and Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form (1985). Her work has been praised for its erudition and its adventurous reinterpretation of female symbolism. Her novels In a Dark Wood (1977) and The Skating Party (1983) reflect the concern with legend and folklore displayed in her works of non-fiction. Her most successful novel, The Lost Father (1988), set in Southern Italy in the opening decades of the century, was inspired by Warner's own Italian heritage. The central figure, Anna, is an archivist collecting material on her enigmatic grandfather, whose slow decline, caused by a bullet lodged in his skull in the aftermath of an atavistic duel, can be read as a metaphor for the corruption of Italian politics during the Fascist regime. References to opera, legend, and history permeate this opulent work which has been compared to the Italian masterpiece The Leopard, by Lampedusa, for its conflation of history and political analysis with adventurous romance. Shakespeare is the inspiration for the dense and highly ambitious Indigo (1992); this rewrites the characters and archetypes of The Tempest in order to explore the terrain of Caribbean history and the guilt-laden legacy of empire from a perspective of post-colonial theoretical insight. The short fictions of The Mermaid in the Basement (1993) look at the feminine through figures from myths both popular and classical, and particularly from the Old Testament, in the light of deconstructivist critical theory. Warner's preoccupations with the power of myth, fable, and fairytale, and the complicity of women in their creation, are again evident in Wonder Tales (1994), a collection of French contes introduced and edited by Warner, and in the multi-faceted essay From the Beast to the Blonde (1994).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Richard Vaughan Biography to Rosanna Warren Biography