Monstrosity in Old English and Old Icelandic literature

McLennan, Alistair (2010) Monstrosity in Old English and Old Icelandic literature. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Thesis Abstract.

The purpose of this thesis is to examine Old English and Old Icelandic literary examples of monstrosity from a modern theoretical perspective. I examine the processes of
monstrous change by which humans can become identified as monsters, focusing on the role played by social and religious pressures.

In the first chapter, I outline the aspects of monster theory and medieval thought relevant to the role of society in shaping identity, and the ways in which anti-societal behaviour is identified with monsters and with monstrous change. Chapter two deals more specifically
with Old English and Old Icelandic social and religious beliefs as they relate to human and monstrous identity. I also consider the application of generic monster terms in Old English and Old Icelandic.

Chapters three to six offer readings of humans and monsters in Old English and Old Icelandic literary texts in cases where a transformation from human to monster occurs or
is blocked. Chapter three focuses on Grendel and Heremod in Beowulf and the ways in which extreme forms of anti-societal behaviour are associated with monsters. In chapter four I discuss the influence of religious beliefs and secular behaviour in the context of the
transformation of humans into the undead in the Íslendingasögur. In chapter five I consider outlaws and the extent to which criminality can result in monstrous change. I demonstrate that only in the most extreme instances is any question of an outlaw’s humanity raised. Even then, the degree of sympathy or admiration evoked by such
legendary outlaws as Grettir, Gísli and Hörðr means that though they are ambiguous in life, they may be redeemed in death.

The final chapter explores the threats to human identity represented by the wilderness, with specific references to Guthlac A, Andreas and Bárðar saga and the impact of
Christianity on the identity of humans and monsters. I demonstrate that analysis of the social and religious issues in Old English and Old Icelandic literary sources permits nuanced readings of monsters and monstrosity which in turn enriches understanding of the texts in their entirety.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Monsters, Monstrosity, Old English, Old Icelandic, Saga, Beowulf, Guthlac, Grettir, Gisli, Cain, Draugar, Undead, Outlaw, Cain
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PD Germanic languages
P Language and Literature > PT Germanic literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Language and Linguistics
Supervisor's Name: Lowe, Dr. Kathryn
Date of Award: 2010
Depositing User: Mr Alistair McLennan
Unique ID: glathesis:2010-2287
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 Dec 2010
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:53

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