Wendy Doniger

Wendy Doniger is a professor of the history of religions at Chicago, where she specialises in Sanskrit texts. Her extensive bibliography includes The Hindus: An Alternative History, which was withdrawn in India following a lawsuit in 2014. In her pieces for the LRB she has written about bestiality, Harry Potter and horses.

How to Escape the Curse: The Mahabharata

Wendy Doniger, 8 October 2009

Many people in India believe that, because the Mahabharata – the ancient epic poem, in Sanskrit, about a disastrous fratricidal war – is such a tragic, violent book, it is dangerous to keep the whole text in your house; most people who have it stow one part of it somewhere else, just to be on the safe side. The Mahabharata, in any case, takes up quite a lot of shelf space: it...

Nineteenth-century German and British linguists, building on some 18th-century hunches, uncovered the connections between members of a large (and rather dysfunctional) family of languages that included ancient Greek, Latin, Hittite (in ancient Anatolia), Vedic Sanskrit (in ancient India), Avestan (in ancient Iran), the Celtic and Norse-Germanic languages and, ultimately, French, German, Italian, Spanish, English and all their friends and relations.

In the 1964 film Robin and the Seven Hoods, when someone compares ‘Robbo’ (Frank Sinatra) to Robin Hood, one of the gangsters asks: ‘Who’s Robin Hood?’ And another replies: ‘Well, he was a hood, some Englishman who lived long ago and had an operation going for him in the forest. And I guess the "robin” means he stole birds.’ Robin is more likely...

Lacan’s Ghost: The mirror

Wendy Doniger, 3 January 2002

In Duck Soup, Harpo dresses up in exactly the same way as Groucho is dressed (moustache, glasses, nightshirt and nightcap) and, posing on different sides of the frame of a giant mirror which Harpo has shattered, each elaborately mimics the other’s gestures – until Chico, wearing the same outfit, breaks the scene up. This scene is mirrored in Big Business (1988), when Bette Midler...

Can you spot the source?

Wendy Doniger, 17 February 2000

Young Harry Potter’s parents are dead. So far, so good: many of the heroes and heroines of the classics of children’s literature are orphans, while others have invisible, unmentionable or irrelevant parents. The sorrow of grieving, not to mention the terror of helplessness, is quickly glossed over in favour of the joy of a fantasised freedom. (A particularly sharp 13-year-old patiently explained to me that if Harry’s parents weren’t dead, there would be no point in writing the book: it wouldn’t be interesting, no matter how many creative details there were.) The problem, for Harry Potter as for most orphans in children’s books, is not the absence of parents but the presence of step-parents. From infancy Harry has been raised by his horrid Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia Dursley, who hate him and dote on their own cruel and stupid son, Dudley Dursley; they starve Harry and, when he’s forced to spend summer holidays with them, they intercept his letters from his school friends, his only link with the world of people who care for him.

Third Natures: The Kāmasūtra

Christopher Minkowski, 21 June 2018

The​ Kāmasūtra occupies an unusual place in the popular imagination. Since the first private publication in 1883 of an English translation – a project fronted by the Orientalising...

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Masquerade: self-impersonation

Gillian Bennett, 3 November 2005

In a show earlier this year on Channel 4, a downtrodden-looking woman was exhibited to members of the public who were asked to guess her age. When, as invariably they did, they overestimated it,...

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The One We’d Like to Meet: myth

Margaret Anne Doody, 6 July 2000

Do real queens or goddesses get raped? Can beauty become vile? Such problems are raised by Helen of Troy, wife of King Menelaus, and by Sita, wife of Rama. Their stories (in multiple versions)...

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Hairpiece

Zoë Heller, 7 March 1996

If anyone knows about the allure of hair it’s little girls. Between the ages of seven and twelve, girls groom their Barbies and each other with an intensity bordering on the freakish. At...

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