Imagining Ithaca: Nostos and Nostalgia Since the Great War

ISBN : 9780198852971

Kathleen Riley
352 Pages
145 x 224 mm
Pub date
Apr 2021
Send mail

'Though home is a name, a word, it is a strong one', said Charles Dickens, 'stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit answered to, in strongest conjuration.' The ancient Greek word nostos, meaning homecoming or return, has a commensurate power and mystique. Irish philosopher-poet John Moriarty described it as 'a teeming word... a haunted word... a word to conjure with'. The most celebrated and culturally enduring nostos is that of Homer's Odysseus who spent ten years returning home after the fall of Troy. His journey back involved many obstacles, temptations, and fantastical adventures and even a katabasis, a rare descent by the living into the realm of the dead. All the while he was sustained and propelled by his memories of Ithaca ('His native home deep imag'd in his soul', as Pope's translation has it). From Virgil's Aeneid to James Joyce's Ulysses, from MGM's The Wizard of Oz to the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and from Derek Walcott's Omeros to Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad, the Odyssean paradigm of nostos and nostalgia has been continually summoned and reimagined by writers and filmmakers. At the same time, 'Ithaca' has proved to be an evocative and versatile abstraction. It is as much about possibility as it is about the past; it is a vision of Arcadia or a haunting, an object of longing, a repository of memory, 'a sleep and a forgetting'. In essence it is about seeking what is absent. Imagining Ithaca explores the idea of nostos, and its attendant pain (algos), in an excitingly eclectic range of sources: from Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier and Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, through the exilic memoirs of Nabokov and the time-travelling fantasies of Woody Allen, to Seamus Heaney's Virgilian descent into the London Underground and Michael Portillo's Telemachan railway journey to Salamanca. This kaleidoscopic exploration spans the end of the Great War, when the world at large was experiencing the complexities of homecoming, to the era of Brexit and COVID-19 which has put the notion of nostalgia firmly under the microscope.


Introduction: Home from Homer
Part I: 'Like strangers in those landscapes of our youth': War and impossible nostos
1 Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier (1918)
2 Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (1929)
3 William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1945)
4 David Malouf's Fly Away Peter (1982)
Part II: 'A deep yearning for a return to the source': Rewriting Homer
5 John Ford's The Long Voyage Home (1940)
6 Njabulo Ndebele's The Cry of Winnie Mandela (2003)
7 Tamar Yellin's 'Return to Zion' (2006)
Part III: 'One is always at home in one's past': The nostalgia of exile
8 Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory (1951)
9 Doris Lessing's Going Home (1957) and Under My Skin (1994)
10 Alan Bennett's The Old Country (1977) and An Englishman Abroad (1983)
Part IV: 'Across a strange country to their homeland': Nostos and the displaced spirit
11 Carson McCullers's, 'Look Homeward, Americans' (1940)
12 Doris Pilkington Garimara's Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence (1996)
13 Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris (2011)
Part V: 'In the place called Adulthood there's precious few golden afternoons': Returning to the place called Childhood
14 George Orwell's Coming Up for Air (1939)
15 John Van Druten's The Widening Circle (1957)
16 John Logan's Peter and Alice (2013)
Part VI: 'All sons are Telemachus figures': Voyages round the father
17 Michael Portillo's Great Railway Journeys: Granada to Salamanca (1999)
18 Seamus Heaney's Seeing Things (1991), District and Circle (2006), and Human Chain (2010)
19 Daniel Mendelsohn's An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic (2017)

About the author: 

Kathleen Riley completed a DPhil in Classics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford where she later held a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. Now a full-time writer, she specializes in classical reception, biography, and theatre history. She is the author of Nigel Hawthorne on Stage and The Reception and Performance of Euripides' Herakles: Reasoning Madness. She is also co-editor of Oscar Wilde and Classical Antiquity and, most recently, a contributor to Seamus Heaney and the Classics: Bann Valley Muses. Her book The Astaires: Fred and Adele has been optioned for a feature film currently in development.

The price listed on this page is the recommended retail price for Japan. When a discount is applied, the discounted price is indicated as “Discount price”. Prices are subject to change without notice.