Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 8711
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Trilling , Renée R.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: The Monster's Mother: Maternity, Femininity and Alterity in "Beowulf"
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 33, 3 (Spring 2000): Paper presented at the Thirty-Fifth International Congress on Medieval Studies, The Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University, May 4-7, 2000, Session 347: "Beowulf I."
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Beowulf, Old English Epic Femininity in Literature Grendel's Mother (Literary Figure) Literature- Verse Monsters Outsiders in Literature Women in Literature
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 8-9
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  • Abstract: The figure of Grendel's mother presents an enormous problem for Beowulf scholars. Just as Beowulf and the Danes are rattled by this monster-woman's attack, modem critics don't seem to know quite how to handle her. They tend to follow one of two paths: either they group her with the other monsters and analyze her in terms of warrior culture and the hero, or they read her through feminist framework as a woman disturbing patriarchy with her "unfeminine" behavior. Both readings fall short of offering a comprehensive analysis of what is ultimately one of the most important figures in the poem. Both her disruptive behavior as female avenger and her curiously constructed role as mother indicate there is more to Grendel's mother than meets the traditional critic's eye. In this paper, I offer an alternative way of reading Grendel's mother that sheds new light on the entire poem. The critical framework of Luce Irigaray provides a paradigm in which we can see both natures of Grendel's mother simultaneously. Irigaray's thought centers on a depiction of the feminine as spatially outside the masculine organizing principles of society - namely language. The feminine is thus not simply different from a masculine norm; it is completely outside of discourse, unspeakable and totally unrepresentable. Anything truly feminine, therefore, is relegated to the outside of a masculine cultural economy, and the truly feminine will appear as something totally Other --perhaps even as something monstrous. By reading Grendel's mother as feminine not just by virtue of her gender as mother, which is inescapable, but also by her position outside a masculine cultural and linguistic economy, we can more full understand how she operates as both monster and woman, and we can explore what her presence tells us about the rest of the poem. [Reproduced by permission of the editor Robert L. Schichler and the editors of the Old English Newsletter.]
  • Author's Affiliation: University of Notre Dame
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 2000.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973
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