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Monsters, Gender and Sexuality in Medieval English Literature


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Monsters abound in Old and Middle English literature, from Grendel and his mother in Beowulf to those found in medieval romances such as Sir Gowther. Through a close examination of the way in which their bodies are sexed and gendered, and drawing from postmodern theories of gender, identity, and subjectivity, this book interrogates medieval notions of the body and the boundaries of human identity. Case studies of Wonders of the East, Beowulf, Mandeville's Travels, the Alliterative Morte Arthure, and Sir Gowther reveal a shift in attitudes toward the gendered and sexed body, and thus toward identity, between the two periods: while Old English authors and artists respond to the threat of the gendered, monstrous form by erasing it, Middle English writers allow transgressive and monstrous bodies to transform and therefore integrate into society. This metamorphosis enables redemption for some monsters, while other monstrous bodies become dangerously flexible and invisible, threatening the communities they infiltrate. These changing cultural reactions to monstrous bodies demonstrate the precarious relationship between body and identity in medieval literature.

Dana M. Oswald is Assistant Professor of English, University of Wisconsin-Parkside.


Monsters, Gender, and Sexuality in Medieval English Literature offers a compelling long view of the monstrous medieval body, and Oswald's novel readings of lesser-known monsters [...] are fresh and exhilarating. [...] I hope that she and other modern teratologists will return to further trace the intriguing ideas outlined in this fine first foray. SPECULUM

[T]his well-written book is a pleasure to read. JOURNAL OF ENGLISH AND GERMANIC PHILOLOGY

Monster studies remains a lively field, in medieval criticism and especially in pedagogy. The next time I teach a monsters course, I will be happy to recommend Oswald's book to my students [...] Oswald's study, particularly in its close and suspicious attention to the images of the Wonders texts, shows the continuing vitality of this approach [tracking down anxiety and transgression]. THE MEDIEVAL REVIEW


First Published: 16 Sep 2010
13 Digit ISBN: 9781843842323
8 black and white illustrations
Pages: 236
Size: 23.4 x 15.6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: D.S.Brewer

Details updated on 05 Oct 2015


  • 1  Introduction: Sex and the Single Monster
  • 2  The Indecent Bodies of the Wonders of the East
  • 3  Dismemberment as Erasure: the Monstrous Body in Beowulf
  • 4  Circulation and Transformation: The Monstrous Feminine in Mandeville's Travels
  • 5  Paternity and Monstrosity in the Alliterative Morte Arthure and Sir Gowther
  • 6  Conclusion: Transformation and the Trace of the Monstrous
  • 7  Bibliography

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