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And did those hooves: Pan and the Edwardians

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posted on 2021-11-14, 04:16 authored by Toland, Eleanor

A surprisingly high number of the novels, short stories and plays produced in Britain during the Edwardian era (defined in the terms of this thesis as the period of time between 1900 and the beginning of World War One) use the Grecian deity Pan, god of shepherds, as a literary motif. Writers as diverse as Somerset Maugham, E.M. Forster, Frances Hodgson Burnett and G.K. Chesterton made Pan a fictional character or alluded to the god of shepherds in more subtle ways. The mystery of why the Edwardians used an ancient Greek god as a symbol requires a profound interrogation of the early twentieth century British soul. The Edwardian era was a narrow corridor of time between the Victorian age and the birth of modernism with the First World War, a period characterised by vast social and political transition, as a generation began to comprehend change they equally feared and desired. Pan was an equivocal figure: easily portrayed as satanic due to his horns and goatish nature, but as the kindly god of shepherds, also a Christ-like figure. Such ambiguity made Pan an ideal symbol for an age unsure of itself and its future. Writers like Maugham and Machen, afraid of social and sexual revolution, portrayed Pan as diabolical, a tempter and a rapist. E.M. Forster, a homosexual man hopeful about the possibility of change, made Pan a terrifying but ultimately liberating figure for those ready to accept the freedom he represented. Kenneth Grahame, desiring the return of a Luddite, Arcadian past that had never truly existed, wrote of Pan as Jesus on the riverbank, sheltering the lost and giving mystic visions to the worthy. Pan represented a simultaneous craving in the Edwardians to flee to the past and to embrace the future, an idealism of the primitive coupled with hope for the future. What he also symbolized was anxiety about the future and the desire to not return to the horrors of the past, fears of the primitive suggested in the nightmarish atavism of Saki’s “The Music on the Hill” and the fears of what society might become expressed in Forster’s “The Machine Stops”. The Edwardian Pan eventually reached its culmination in J.M. Barrie’s twentieth-century fairy tale Peter Pan, in which the eponymous character, seeming at first so different from the ancient Greek mythological figure, became an embodiment of everything the Edwardian Pan phenomenon represented. With the nightmarish yet fascinating figure of Peter Pan, the Edwardians had created a new Pan, reborn for their age. With the beginning of World War One, the Pan figure would begin to fade into insignificance, with only one major work later published which could justifiably be called part of the phenomenon; Lord Dunsany’s The Blessing of Pan, a fitting elegy for the Edwardian Age.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970120 Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Ferrall, Charles; Miles, Geoff