I am reading The Nether World by George Gissing, and it has made me think about the significance behind the allusion to Orpheus and the meanads that tear him to bits. Now, we all know the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, how Orpheus descends into the underworld to retrieve his beloved and loses her because he looks back to ascertain that she is following. In the novel, three particular figures emerge as Orpheus figures, all of which are described as artists. The only way they will ever escape the nether world, the world of urban poverty that surrounds them, is by never looking back, never showing concern or compassion for those they leave behind.
I am really able to relate to this idea. I, too, am from the nether world. I was born from a working class background, and while we were able to escape the misery of utter poverty, certain elements that characterize the lower orders of society can certainly be found within my family: coarseness, both of speech and behaviour, a lack of education, degrees of abuse and addiction... all of those issues that together create the nether world of Gissing's novel can be found in my family.
I, myself, am an Orpheus figure. My natural disposition and my artistic nature are alien to the nether world. My interest in books and in refinement are strangely incongruent with the background that surrounded me. In a way, I feel very much like my intellectual self is Orpheus, and it descended in order to pull my body, my Eurydice from the pits that lay open before me. And I have certainly found that in order to guarantee my security in the upper world, it has become a fundamental necessity for me to NEVER look back. There are many who have found fault with me for doing so. There are those who believe me to be self-righteous and judgemental... a very monster for never looking back to assist those I have left behind. I believe I have encouraged others to follow me... but I will not allow myself to be dragged back into the abyss by looking behind me to ensure they have made the right decision.
I wonder, though, if perhaps that other self is lost in the process... the self that technically belongs in the nether world. Perhaps I have been unable to retrieve it afterall. Perhaps Eurydice has become a sacrifical offering to the meanads in my place...