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Social Science Folklore & Mythology

Electra after Freud

Myth and Culture

by (author) Jill Scott

Cornell University Press
Initial publish date
Feb 2005
Folklore & Mythology, Psychoanalysis, Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2005
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 18
  • Grade: 12


"Electra's story is essentially a tale of murder, revenge, and violence. In the ancient myth of Atreus, Agamemnon returns home from battle and receives no hero's welcome. Instead, he is greeted with an ax, murdered in his bath by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover-accomplice, Aegisthus. Electra chooses anger over sorrow and stops at nothing to ensure that her mother pays. In revenge, Electra, with the help of her brother, orchestrates a brutal and bloody matricide, and her reward is the restitution of her father's good name. Amid all this chaos, Electra, Agamemnon's princess daughter, must bear the humiliation of being treated as a slave girl and labeled a madwoman."?from the Introduction

Almost everyone knows about Oedipus and his mother, and many readers would put the Oedipus myth at the forefront of Western collective mythology. In Electra after Freud, Jill Scott leaves that couple behind and argues convincingly for the primacy of the countermyth of Agamemnon and his daughter. Through a lens of Freudian and feminist psychoanalysis, this book views renderings of the Electra myth in twentieth-century literature and culture.

Scott reads several pivotal texts featuring Electra to demonstrate what she calls "a narrative revolt" against the dominance of Oedipus as archetype. Situating the Electra myth within a framework of psychoanalysis, medicine, opera, and dance, Scott investigates the heroine's role at the intersections of history and the feminine, eros and thanatos, hysteria and melancholia. Scott analyzes Electra adaptations by H.D., Hofmannsthal and Strauss, Musil, and Plath and highlights key moments in the telling and reception of the Electra myth in the modern imagination.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Jill Scott is Assistant Professor and Undergraduate Coordinator in the Department of German Language and Literature at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario.

Editorial Reviews

Electra after Freud is a fine scholarly work.... It offers a fascinating insight into how literature, psychoanalysis, and cultural politics contribute to the poetic re/invention of Electra. Scott's readings of the above texts are persuasive, and her scholarship is distinguished by its careful textual analysis, astute ideological critique, and graceful prose style that is free of jargon.... Her readings of Electra's polyvalent femininity, through the critiques of Luce Irigaray, Melanie Klein, and Kristeva, provide a kind of maternal antidote to Freud's wilder speculations on sexual difference.... As a reflection on the suitability of theoretical paradigms for cultural analysis, the significance of Scott's monograph also resides in its investigation of psychoanalysis's impact on modernist drama, literature, and music. Published on the eve of Freud's 150th birthday, Electra after Freud re/affirms the actuality of psychoanalysis as a provocative literary-metaphorical method of interpretation (among its other possible uses).... Psychoanalytic criticism?when coupled with the analytical approach of cultural studies?remains a powerful explanatory tool for understanding the desires, hopes, and wishes surrounding the social construction of gender, sexuality, and subjectivity.


Jill Scott boldly argues that Electra (her character, her myth) rivals and perhaps even surpasses the usefulness of Oedipus in twentieth-century literature. Moreover, she is quick to attribute the revival of these characters in modern times to Sigmund Freud and his sexual theories.... The skill that permits Scott to draw from a background inclusive of psychoanalytic theory and the literatures and histories of twentieth-century America, Germany, and Austria is the same one that allows her to make startling yet solid connections among writers separated by time and space. The span of her work and her conclusions will not fail to absorb and provoke the reader.

College Literature

This book opens with a compelling question: To whom does the twentieth century belong?Oedipus or Electra? Jill Scott sets out to demonstrate that the myth of Electra appeals to modern writers in ways the myth of Oedipus does not. The result is an interesting study of the creative uses of the myth by a varied group of writers, some relatively unfamiliar, as well as a look at their perceptions of psychoanalysis.... Electra after Freud demonstrates for me how compelling a figure Electra has been for many writers and artists of the past century.

Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association