Date of Award

12-14-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Edward John Christie

Second Advisor

Dr. Scott Lightsey

Third Advisor

Dr. Stephen Dobranski

Abstract

The conflation of fantastic beasts and monsters with highly-wrought objects constitutes a heretofore-critically-unacknowledged yet prevalent mode of representation in Old English literature. The Anglo-Saxon writers and poets utilizing this mode notably mobilize a number of strategies to blur the line between the bodies of such creatures and the associated manmade items, including figurative relationships, parallelism linking two accounts within the larger narrative, the conceptual pairing or collocation of seemingly-unrelated entities within a particular account, the description of a creature’s body with an adjective that normally applies to highly-wrought objects, and the destruction of a creature’s body in the precise manner befitting the destruction of a material artifact. Considering that each of the writers and poets utilizes two or more strategies to link a given fantastic beast or monster to the indicated object or objects, the depictions ultimately convey the sense that the amazing creatures literally possess alternate natures as the exquisite items. In turn, the fundamental identification of living entity with material artifact in the different accounts enables the creatures to perform the important cultural work of responding to insular fantasies and anxieties tied to the perceived moral worth of certain kinds of splendid objects produced by or otherwise encountered within Anglo-Saxon England. The depictions specifically serve this end by effectively granting these objects beastly lives and a remarkable level of creaturely agency in the landscapes or seascapes of man’s moral universe. The objects enabled to enjoy such animal existences most frequently fall into two main, sometimes overlapping craftwork categories: insular and Roman items of smithwork and Roman/extra-insular architectural works, including entire buildings and individual architectural elements. Several documented aspects of Anglo-Saxon material culture stand to shed light on the writers’ and poets’ inspiration to work with a theme of crafted objects’ moral worth in the first place, their tendency to engage the theme by conflating the material artifacts with the bodies of fantastic beasts and monsters, and their choice mainly to merge the fabulous creatures with architectural works and/or smithwork, with occasional recourse to other types of craftwork.

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