Towards A Poetics of Marvellous Spaces in Old and Middle English Narrative

Towards A Poetics of Marvellous Spaces in Old and Middle English Narrative

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Towards A Poetics of Marvellous Spaces in Old and Middle English Narrative

Ioana Alexandra Bolintineanu

University of Toronto: Doctor of Philosophy Centre for Medieval Studies (2012)


From the eighth to the fourteenth century, places of wonder and dread appear in a wide variety of genres in Old and Middle English: epics, lays, romances, saints’ lives, travel narratives, marvel collections, visions of the afterlife. These places appear in narratives of the other world, a term which in Old and Middle English texts refers to the Christian afterlife: Hell, Purgatory, even Paradise can be fraught with wonder, danger, and the possibility of harm. But in addition to the other world, there are places that are not theologically separate from the human world, but that are nevertheless both marvellous and horrifying: the monster-mere in Beowulf, the Faerie kingdom of Sir Orfeo, the demon-ridden Vale Perilous in Mandeville’s Travels, or the fearful landscape of the Green Chapel in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Fraught with horror or the possibility of harm, these places are profoundly different from the presented or implied home world of the text.

My dissertation investigates how Old and Middle English narratives create places of wonder and dread; how they situate these places metaphysically between the world of living mortals and the world of the afterlife; how they furnish these places with dangerous topography and monstrous inhabitants, as well as with motifs, with tropes, and with thematic concerns that signal their marvellous and fearful nature.

University of Toronto

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