Marina Warner was born in London in 1946. Daughter of an English father and Italian mother, she grew up in Cairo, Brussels, and in Cambridge, England. She studied French and Italian at the University of Oxford. The subject of her first book, »The Dragon Empress: Life and Times of Tz’u-hsi, Empress Dowager of China, 1835-1908« (1972), draws on her interest in the different meanings of femaleness in public life. Starting with her second book, »Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of Virgin Mary« (1976) – a provocative study of the Roman Catholic phenomenon of Mariolatry – legends, fairy tales and myths have become the focal point of her works.
In her wide-ranging explorations of female figures Warner harks back to cultural phenomena from art, literature, religion and popular culture. Whether writing about Joan of Arc or about allegorical female statues, Warner’s deconstructive analyses are constantly surprising in their use of unusual perspectives and contexts as well as sharp conclusions. In »From the Beast to the Blonde« (1994), she shows how fairy tales are shaped by women who traditionally hand them down. As part of the BBC’s »Reith Lectures« (1994), Warner analysed contemporary myths, and, in particular, how they persist in politics and entertainment. Most recently, she has concentrated on the interaction between traditional ideas of spirit and mass media, and computer technologies in »Phantasmagoria« (2006).
Warner has written five novels to date – most of them family stories incorporating myths and legends which connect the present with the past, drawing on different countries and cultures. »The Lost Father« (1988) was nominated for the Booker Prize and honoured with the PEN/Macmillan Silver Award. The narrator’s memories wander among her southern Italian ancestors during the Fascist era. They recount their emigration to and subsequent return from the U.S. Through an underlying love story, Warner looks at creation and perpetuation of a family’s own mythology. »Indigo« (1992) takes on Shakespeare’s »Tempest« in a story whose structure is even more complex, following the descendants of the protagonists in this drama of colonialism and submission to the contemporary world. »The Leto Bundle« (2000) follows the fortunes of a woman refugee across time till she arrives in contemporary London as an asylum seeker.
Warner has also written short stories, articles, criticism and essays, children’s books and libretti. In addition, she has curated various exhibitions. She is currently working as a professor at the University of Essex, and is a member of a number of academic, cultural and political committees, as well as a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the British Academy. Warner has been awarded several honorary doctorates, including one from Oxford. She lives in London.
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