Friðriksdóttir Jóhanna Katrín, Women in Old Norse literature: bodies, words, and power

Friðriksdóttir Jóhanna Katrín, Women in Old Norse literature: bodies, words, and power, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, XIV-192 p. ISBN: 978-0-230-12042-6

Compte rendu par/Review by : Craig R. Davis

The Medieval Review

Date : 14 Feb 2014

The primary focus of feminist literary criticism over the past few decades has been on the question of « agency, » that is, the autonomy or control authors depict fictional women as having over their own bodies, as well as the power of these characters to influence domestic or political affairs through speech and action. The medieval tradition of Old Norse poetry and prose, preserved mainly in Icelandic manuscripts, provides a full range of variously empowered female figures relevant to such study: young girls and grown women, housewives and queens, « good girls » and pioneer matriarchs, witches and « bitches »–plus goddesses, norns, sybils, valkyries, giantesses, she-beasts, shape-shifters, even manly women and womanly men, cross-dressers and transgendered. In the terms popularized by Judith Butler in Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), the « performance » of sexual identity is what characters do in Old Norse-Icelandic literature and very few of them are portrayed as oblivious to the gendered implications of their words and deeds. Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir’s contribution in this book is to demonstrate the diversity and nuance of the expression of sexual identity in Icelandic secular prose narratives and the multiplicity of situations in which it is brought to bear.

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