IMC 2008: Sessions

Session 1511: Wild Women and Mad Men

Thursday 10 July 2008, 09.00-10.30

Moderator/Chair:Katherine Heavey, University of Glasgow
Paper 1511-a'Dangerous Margins': Sex, Speech, and Spirits in Middle English Arthurian Romance
(Language: English)
Eilish Fisher, Independent Scholar, Maynooth
Index terms: Language and Literature - Middle English, Sexuality, Women's Studies
Paper 1511-bThe Mad Knight in Romance
(Language: English)
Laura Jose, Durham University
Index terms: Gender Studies, Language and Literature - Middle English
Paper 1511-cDepictions of the Wilderness in French Medieval Literature: The Tale of the Great Giants
(Language: English)
Anne M. E. Caillaud, Department of Modern Languages & Literatures, Grand Valley State University, Michigan
Index terms: Gender Studies, Language and Literature - French or Occitan, Women's Studies

In this paper I will look at how the female protagonists in two Middle English romances, the 14th-century The Awntyrs off Arthure, and the 15th-century The Weddyng of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell, display a degree of autonomy through an identity which is liminal in nature. I will focus on three major aspects within these texts; motherhood and the female body, the supernatural, and female speech. I propose that these elements contribute to an overall understanding, not only of the female characters themselves, but the text as a whole.
This paper will examine the role of madness in medieval romance, in which knights customarily go mad in response to disappointment in love, stripping naked, and fleeing into the wilderness. Insanity, as a response to conflicting homosocial and heterosexual roles, illuminates the double binds implicit in masculine roles. Knightly masculinity, however, constructed around the body, appears to be peculiarly resistant to a loss of rationality: while knights lose their social identity through madness, their essential masculinity remains unaffected. In romance, in contrast to other genres, madness is used to validate rather than to undermine knightly masculinity: only the best men go mad.
The text Des Grantz Geants is an anonymous French narrative, written towards the end of the 13th century. The tale takes place in 1370 BC and, rather than recounting the tale of giants, it focuses on their mothers. These thirty sisters, rebellious daughters of a powerful king, are exiled from Greece. Though cast away to a certain death, the women survive to become the first settlers of Albion. Stranded in the wilderness and reduced to a primitive state, the women soon take the necessary steps to organize themselves into an autonomous female society. Like the Amazons, they adopt a behavior traditionally reserved for male protagonists and in the absence of men, mate with demons. The union between the subversive women and their demon-lovers results in the maleficent giants. This paper will study why and how the wilderness as a setting, plays an intricate part in the origin and the development of the giants doomed society.