Partner Hope Mirrlees
11 Mecklenburgh Square, London WC1N 2AD
Cheltenham Ladies' College, Bayshill Rd, Cheltenham GL50 3EP, UK
University of Cambride, 4 Mill Ln, Cambridge CB2 1RZ, UK
East Finchley Cemetery, E End Rd, East Finchley N2 0RZ, UK
Jane Ellen Harrison (9 September 1850 – 15 April 1928) was a British classical scholar, linguist. J.H. in A Room of One's Own (1928) by Virginia Woolf is Jane Harrison.
Harrison is one of the founders, with Karl Kerenyi and Walter Burkert, of modern studies in Ancient Greek religion and mythology. She applied 19th century archaeological discoveries to the interpretation of ancient Greek religion in ways that have become standard. She has also been credited with being the first woman to obtain a post in England as a ‘career academic’. Harrison argued for women's suffrage but thought she would never want to vote herself. Ellen Wordsworth Crofts, later second wife of Sir Francis Darwin, was Jane Harrison's best friend from her student days at Newnham, and during the period from 1898 to her death in 1903.
Harrison was born in Cottingham, Yorkshire on 9 September 1850. Her mother died shortly after she was born and she was educated by a series of governesses. Her governesses taught her German, Latin, Ancient Greek and Hebrew, but she later expanded her knowledge to about sixteen languages, including Russian.
Harrison spent most of her professional life at Newnham College, the progressive, recently established college for women at Cambridge. At Newnham, one of her students was Eugenie Sellers, the writer and poet, with whom she lived in England and later in Paris and possibly even had a relationship with in the late 1880s.
Between 1880 and 1897 Harrison studied Greek art and archaeology at the British Museum under Sir Charles Newton. Harrison then supported herself lecturing at the museum and at schools (mostly private boy's schools). Her lectures became widely popular and 1600 people ended up attending her Glasgow lecture on Athenian gravestones. She travelled to Italy and Germany, where she met the scholar from Prague, Wilhelm Klein. Klein introduced her to Wilhelm Dörpfeld who invited her to participate in his archaeological tours in Greece. Her early book The Odyssey in Art and Literature then appeared in 1882. Harrison met the scholar D. S. MacColl, who supposedly asked her to marry him and she declined. Harrison then suffered a severe depression and started to study the more primitive areas of Greek art in an attempt to cure herself.
In 1888 Harrison began to publish in the periodical that Oscar Wilde was editing called Woman's World on "The Pictures of Sappho." Harrison also ended up translating Mythologie figurée de la Grèce (1883) by Maxime Collignon as well as providing personal commentary to selections of Pausanias, Mythology & Monuments of Ancient Athens by Margaret Verrall in the same year. These two major works caused Harrison to be awarded honorary degrees from the universities of Durham (1897) and Aberdeen (1895).
Harrison was then engaged to marry the scholar R. A. Neil, but he died in 1901 before they could marry.
She became the central figure of the group known as the Cambridge Ritualists. In 1903 her book Prolegomena on the Study of Greek Religion appeared. Harrison became close to Francis MacDonald Cornford (1874–1943), and when he married in 1909 she became extremely upset. She then made a new friendship with Hope Mirrlees whom she referred to as her "spiritual daughter".
Harrison retired from Newnham in 1922 and then moved to Paris to live with Mirrlees. She and Mirrlees returned to London in 1925 where she was able to publish her memoirs through Leonard and Virginia Woolf's press, The Hogarth Press. She lived three more years, to the age of 77, and passed away at her house in Bloomsbury. She is now buried in St Marylebone cemetery, East Finchley.
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