Date of Degree

9-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

English

Advisor(s)

Steven F. Kruger

Keywords

Comparative; Identity; Medieval; Modernism; War; Women

Abstract

This dissertation explores in a comparative manner the connection between female identity and war in medieval and twentieth-century literature, arguing that texts written before the early modern period acknowledge a relationship between women and conflict that modernist and post-1945 writing mitigates or expunges. Given the binary opposition of women to war that underlies traditional gender roles, my work therefore challenges common perceptions of the twentieth-century as an essentially progressive period in relation to the political and social status of women while addressing widely held notions of the medieval as backwards and irrelevant in order to demonstrate the lack of connotative opposition between the terms "medieval" and "modern."

More specifically, my dissertation considers two particular figures as both a medieval and a twentieth-century text respectively conceive of them. The Old Icelandic Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements) identifies Auꝺr in djúpúꝺga ("Aud the deep-minded") as the only woman among its most prominent settlers and, in keeping with this stature, provides a correspondingly lengthy account of her settlement in Iceland; Scottish writer Naomi Mitchison's 1955 novel, The Land the Ravens Found, provides an expanded retelling of Auꝺr's establishment in Iceland. Derdriu (Deirdre) is the female protagonist of "Longes mac nUislenn" ("The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu") from the Ulster cycle of Irish mythology. Numerous poets, fiction writers and playwrights have since retold this narrative, including William Butler Yeats whose 1907 play, Deirdre, I have chosen to explore. Through an analysis combining feminist, new historicist, philological and legal approaches to literature, my dissertation demonstrates that Landnámabók and "Longes mac nUislenn" implicate Auꝺr in djúpúꝺga and Derdriu in war while Naomi Mitchison's The Land the Ravens Found and William Butler Yeats' Deirdre conventionalize these figures' association with conflict by diminishing their agency as aggressors and identifying them with domesticity.

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