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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The basilisk and its antidote : a study of the changing image of Chopin in literature Wootton, Alice Carolyn May


One area related to Fryderyk Chopin which has received little attention is his influence upon literature. In order to develop two aspects of this theme a key word "basilisk" has been introduced which Robert Schumann as music critic used in explaining the unusual impression that Chopin's music first presented on the printed page. This word, with its overtones both magical and ominous, suggests the symbol for the growing wave of aestheticism with which the cult of Chopin came to be associated. Translated into literature the expression of the Chopin cult found its way into the early writings of Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, and John Galsworthy. Later, as the twentieth century progressed and the pendulum swung in a new direction for the arts and for literature, a suitable antidote to the basilisk was to be found in the parody of the Chopin cult offered by T. S. Eliot in his "Portrait of a Lady" and in "Chopin" by Gottfried Benn, which explores the use of biography in a poem, and moves away from the extreme subjectivity of many nineteenth-century portrayals of the Polish composer. It is the purpose of this study to trace the changing image of Chopin in a selection of literary works which belong to the period between 1890 and 1950.

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