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Title:The serpent woman as a grotesque in French, English, and German medieval narrative
Author(s):Dwyer, Carola W.
Director of Research:Fresco, Karen L.; Bornholdt, Claudia
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Fresco, Karen L.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Stenport, Anna W.; Kalinke, Marianne
Department / Program:Comparative & World Literature
Discipline:Comparative Literature
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):medieval grotesque
grotesque women
serpent women
medieval romance
höfischer Roman
Middle English
popular romance
Blonde Esmeree
Lybeaus Desconus
Bel Inconnu
comparative grotesque
Thüring von Ringoltingen
prose novel
Li Biaus Descouneüs
Abstract:In contemporary theory and artistic representation, the grotesque is understood as a creative space in which the depiction of a peculiar individual or event assembled in some disproportionate and disparate form turns human society on its head. In a medieval representation the rules are different insofar as that medieval literature is riddled with extraordinary creatures, places, and events. This comparative study investigates the female grotesque within the framework of courtly romance. By establishing a definition of the grotesque that combines contemporary theory with medieval literary concepts, history, and philosophy, a critical reading of four hybrid women, half-human, half-serpent, who have been previously described as monstrous becomes possible. It shows that these serpent women are examples of a female grotesque, a term rarely applied to medieval literature. The characters are true Other in that they are neither human nor beast. I apply the term “grotesque” to four women who challenge their societies’ views on expectations of women and the dynamic between the knights who pursue them. These serpents are grotesque because they are noblewomen with characters, behavior, and status that conform to courtly culture, but appear in ugly and misshapen bodies that reveal at least one audaciously feminine feature desired by medieval knights. Although the women are pivotal for the men’s development, the knights are unexpectedly overwhelmed and mocked. That brings about a double effect that challenges cultural norms on various levels and exposes paradoxes, such as the correlation between appearance and power and generates at least one common women and gender issue in this medieval study and beyond: when the woman loses her human form and becomes ugly, she gains power.
Issue Date:2015-12-04
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 Carola Dwyer
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-03-02
Date Deposited:2015-12

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