Arley David Hugh, The whirling wheel: the male construction of empowered female identities in Old Norse myth and legend

Arley David Hugh, The whirling wheel: the male construction of empowered female identities in Old Norse myth and legend, Thèse de doctorat soutenue en 2015, (Université de Durham)

Résumé/abstract :

This thesis examines the body of medieval literature associated with Old Norse myth and legend. Though this is a diffuse corpus produced over a long span of time and from a wide geographical area, it is possible to establish connections between texts and to highlight certain recurring narrative patterns that are deeply entrenched in this literary tradition. The specific focus of the present study is to analyse the narrative patterns that characterise the interactions between male and female figures.

It has long been understood that female figures tend to occupy carefully defined social roles in this body of literature, and much work has been done in assessing these. This thesis takes the unique approach of investigating whether these roles can be viewed, not as a product of the mentality of the writers of this literary material, but rather as a product of male characters within the literary narratives themselves. The investigation poses the question of whether men can be seen, through their words, thoughts, and actions, to be responsible for creating female identities. Intimately connected to the concept of identity creation is the idea of power: this thesis will argue that most male attempts to redefine female identity is motivated by a desire to acquire, control, negate, or otherwise alter, the powers possessed by females. Quite often, because fallible males demonstrate an imperfect understanding of female power, there can be a marked disparity between the abilities certain women are thought to possess, and those they actually do. The thesis will examine a large selection of supernatural female figures, across a broad range of literature, ultimately to suggest that the male creation of female power is deeply entrenched in narrative patterns observable in many different contexts.

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