The monster within: emerging monstrosity in Old English literature

Saunders, Rosalyn (2013) The monster within: emerging monstrosity in Old English literature. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis examines representations of monstrosity in Old English literature. The literary studies herein examine the construction of monstrous individuals in Old English poetry, and I demonstrate that literary monstrous types converge and develop a tradition of monstrosity that informs the monsters of the Liber monstrorum and Anglo-Saxon Wonders of the East. I argue that, for Old English writers, a monster was not necessarily a deformed being located in the distant lands of the East; rather, the literary and linguistic evidence suggests that any man or woman had the potential to become a monstrous type within the conventional social order. The Old English works examined are Precepts, Maxims I and II, Vainglory, Judith, The Battle of Maldon and Beowulf because each text reveals that Old English writers utilised binary sex and gender differences to define the social roles and behaviours appropriate for the masculine and feminine. According to critical theory, gender is a performance and both men and women must therefore prove their gender identities by behaving in a certain way and fulfilling the roles deemed appropriate for their gender. In failing to conform to the expectations of their gender, a gender-monstrosity matrix works upon the social transgressors, excluding them from the social order and distorting their gender identities into a monstrously confused yet recognisable construct. In the literary works examined, the monstrous type is not only the antithesis to the idealised masculine and feminine, but is also a malevolent figure whose anti-social words and actions transgress gender expectations. I demonstrate that the danger posed by the monster is not only physical, but also psychological. The monster threatens the communal harmony of the social order because, in Old English literature, monstrosity emerges in the form of an uncontrolled riot that incites unrest and enmity in the hall, or as words and outward actions that are purposely deployed (or withheld) in order to demoralise, destroy, and even consume the masculine symbolic order in the pursuit of self-gratification.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to copyright restrictions the full text of this thesis cannot be made available online. Access to the printed version is available once any embargo periods have expired.
Keywords: Old English, monstrosity, gender
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Language and Linguistics
Supervisor's Name: Strickland, Dr. Debra
Date of Award: 2013
Depositing User: Dr Rosalyn Saunders
Unique ID: glathesis:2013-4166
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 25 Apr 2013 08:16
Last Modified: 16 Oct 2020 12:57

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