Communication and Construction of Monstrous Embodiment
June 15-16, 2012

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Monstrous Mothers in Old English Literature

If you are passionate about Old and Middle English Literature and monstrosity, take a look at Dana Oswald's illuminating article Unnatural Women, Invisible Mothers: Monstrous Female Bodies in 'Wonders of the East', reflecting on the Anglo Saxon mother as an 'object of shameful excess' which 'exceeds the understanding of literate monks and noblemen' and is rarely featured in Old English literature. More specifically, the article addresses mothers in Wonders of the East, an Old English prose piece written around AD 1000, which either remains invisible or function as gender hybrids, challenging 'the integrity of the sexed and gendered body and also reconfigure the very nature of reproduction and maternity.' Wonders of the East is a text populated with monsters, especially those posessing human and animal characteristics like fauns, sirens and hippocentaurs - still considered as human, 'visibly monstrous through lack, excess or hibridity.'
Oswald writes on monstrous mothers:

Their monstrosity relies upon their sex and gender status, and therefore, by definition, men cannot be part of their communities. Although motherhood is suggested and then occluded frequently in this text when we are told monsters are born in the East, such is not the case for the two female monsters in 'Wonders'. Rather, I argue that their specific kinds of monstrosity rely on their possession of bodies that are both masculine and feminine, and indeed, on the very dangers such hybrid bodies suggest. Although the text does not say so explicitly, it subtly suggests that, because there are no male members in these exclusively female communities, perhaps what is most monstrous about these women is that to become mothers, they do not require men.

Dana Oswald is also author of Monsters, Gender and Sexuality in Medieval English Literature, where she reflects on monstrosity and Wonders of the East, Beowulf, Mandeville's Travels, Morte Arthure, Sir Gowther and many others.

No comments:

Post a Comment