Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Degree Granting Department
Nicole Guenther Discenza, Ph.D.
Anne Latowsky, Ph.D.
Tison Pugh, Ph.D.
Laura Runge, Ph.D.
Anglo-Saxon, Boethius, Chaucer, Margery Kempe, Rood
I argue that select early English texts queer normative authorizing conventions to authorize Old English and Middle English literatures. During the European Middle Ages, Latin cultures and literatures were privileged with authority that extended to and subverted the cultural capital of the inhabitants of England at the edge of the known Western world. I identify four exceptional English texts that employ authorizing conventions to disrupt normative networks of power that traditionally privilege Latin and to authorize English literature instead. The Norman Conquest had altered the English language and social structures; still, these altered networks of power continued to marginalize English cultural identities, and thus the means by which literary authority was constructed. Among the texts I focus on, Old English texts promote Anglo-Saxon cultural cohesion, whereas Middle English texts promote the author’s personal desires. Across the divide between Old English and Middle English, literary authority intersects with nonnormative genders and sexualities to encode England’s marginalized orientations to dominant cultural authorities.
My first chapter focuses on Alfred’s Old English translation of Boethius’s Latin Consolation of Philosophy. The narrator is a fictionalized version of the author, Boethius, and Alfred’s translation characterizes him as a Roman. Alfred situates the Roman Boethius in conversation with Wisdom, an allegorical figure whom Alfred characterized as an Anglo-Saxon mother with masculine pronouns. The dynamic between the maternal Anglo-Saxon Wisdom and her foster-child, the Roman Boethius, shifts power from Latin sources to Alfred’s present Old English philosophical contributions. In my second chapter, I argue that Dream of the Rood queers conventional orientations of time and space to locate Anglo Saxons at both the inception of and conclusion to salvation history. The Rood is imagined as an Anglo-Saxon warrior actively participating in Christ’s passion, and thus facilitating salvation. Warning the Dreamer and the poem’s audience of the looming Judgment Day, Dream implicates England as a geographical and temporal end. Displacing cultural centers like Rome and Jerusalem, Anglo-Saxon England is privileged within Dream’s reorientations of salvation narratives. Then, I work across conventional historical periodization that distinguishes Old English from Middle English to identify an emerging English literary authority in the wake of the Norman Conquest and the subsequent prestige of French in England. In my third chapter I argue that Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women narrator frustrates love conventions that are constructed around the author’s presumed heteronormativity. Chaucer’s narrator privileges literary learning over lived experience within a gendered hierarchical structure. He foregoes women’s experiences and the possibility of participating in romantic love with female figures in favor of literary constructions that situate him within the company of other male authors with erotic implications. My final chapter argues that Margery Kempe manipulates the social and literary conventions available to her, excessively employing authorizing conventions multiple times and with hyperbolic style so that the authenticity of her experiences are simultaneously validated and undermined by the constructedness of her literary authority. Analyzing the mechanisms by which cultural authority is constructed, I locate women, queer individuals, and same-sex desires early in the English literary heritage. My work recognizes inclusion already present in English literary canons while enhancing women’s and LGBTQ+ histories.
Scholar Commons Citation
Pavlinich, Elan J., "Queer Authority in Old and Middle English Literature" (2019). Graduate Theses and Dissertations.