The arch, witty, outspoken memoirs of the pioneering archaeologist and scholar Mary Beard has called “my hero.”

First published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf in 1925, Jane Ellen Harrison’s Reminiscences are the irreverent memoirs of a student who declared Victorian education “ingeniously useless,” who blazed a trail for female scholars, and who changed the way we see the ancient world. Growing up in the Yorkshire countryside, Harrison showed an early aptitude for languages: by the age of seventeen, with the help of a governess, she had learned Greek, Latin, German, and some Hebrew. (“Unfortunately, having no guide, we began with the Psalms, which are hard nuts to crack.”) She went on to become the most influential Classicist of her generation. Drawing on the insights of Nietzsche, Bergson, and Freud, and on archaeological research, she helped to revolutionize the study of Greek myth. “The great Mother,” she wrote, “is prior to male divinities.”

Unconventional in her private life (“By what miracle I escaped marriage I do not know, for all my life I fell in love”), she spent her later years with the poet and novelist Hope Mirrlees, thirty-seven years her junior. Harrison’s zest for life is everywhere in these pages. Sprightly, amused, and amusing, her Reminiscences form an unforgettable sketch of a woman ahead of her time.

About the author(s)

Jane Ellen Harrison (1850–1928) was born and raised in Yorkshire, England, the daughter of a prosperous timber broker; her mother died soon after she was born. Educated at home as a child, Harrison enrolled in 1874 in the newly established Newnham College for women, at Cambridge University, where she later taught. In 1903 Harrison published her Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, followed in 1912 by Themis, works that synthesized new developments in archaeology and anthropology and helped revolutionize the study of ancient Greek civilization. A popular lecturer whose articles enjoyed a wide readership, Harrison retired from teaching in 1922 and spent her last years in Paris with her “spiritual daughter,” the poet Hope Mirrlees.

Daniel Mendelsohn’s books include The Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic, Gender and the City in Euripides’ Political Plays, and translations of the collected poems of Sappho and C. P. Cavafy.


“Captivating recollections . . . This charming memoir by classicist and educator Harrison (1850-1928), published in 1925 by Leonard and Virginia Woolf, and now reissued with an introduction by Daniel Mendelsohn, offers a graceful portrait of a spirited woman. At times curmudgeonly, at times irreverent, always shrewdly perceptive.”

"Jane Ellen Harrison changed the way we think about ancient Greek culture—peeling back that calm, white marble exterior to reveal something much more violent, messy and ecstatic underneath ('bloody Jane' they called her, for more reasons than one, I suspect). And she was the first woman in England to become an academic, in the fully professional sense—an ambitious, full-time, salaried, university researcher and lecturer. She made it possible for me to do what I do."

Mary Beard

"When I compare . . . Jane Grey with Jane Harrison, the advance in intellectual power seems to me not only sensible but immense; the comparison with men not in the least one that inclines me to suicide; and the effects of education and liberty scarcely to be overrated."

Virginia Woolf