Marina Sarah Warner’s literary career has been prolific, encompassing a number of topics and genres. In addition to her principal works of nonfiction and fiction, she has been a journalist and has written some children’s literature and screenplays for television. However, two main themes emerge as concerns of her major works: feminism and myth. Indeed, many of her writings demonstrate the links between these two ideas.
Many of Warner’s interests stem from her family and education. She was born in London. Her father, Esmund, was a bookseller and her mother, Emilia Terzuli, was a teacher. Marina Warner was raised as a Roman Catholic and was educated in convent schools in England, Egypt, and Belgium. She received her degree at Oxford (Lady Margaret Hall) in French and Italian. Her literary talents were evident in her work as editor of Isis, the university magazine at Oxford, and in her early career as a journalist, for which she received the Daily Telegraph Young Writer of the Year award in 1970. By the early 1970’s she had begun to write full-time. Her first book was a biography of Tz’u-hsi, the empress dowager of China in the late nineteenth century. This work showed Warner’s promise as a historical writer in its ability to convey the intrigue of the Chinese court and in her portrayal of Tz’u-hsi as a strong, forceful woman.
In 1976 the book for which Marina Warner is best known was published. Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary examines the various manifestations through the centuries of the myth and cult of the Virgin Mary. Her interest in this subject is rooted in her education in Catholic convent schools, where the Virgin was upheld as an exemplar of ideal womanhood. After leaving the Catholic Church, Warner wanted to examine why this myth of female virginity was so powerful. Her book utilizes an impressive amount of evidence drawn from religious studies, anthropology, history, and art history to advance her thesis that the cult of the Virgin was degrading to women. This book shows how Warner investigates the mythological content of an idea to expose its misogynistic core. Warner’s next work of nonfiction, Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism, delved into the mythology surrounding another woman, Joan of Arc. Rather than approach the subject as a biography, Warner looked into the context that made Joan...
(The entire section is 985 words.)