Medievalism in the Medieval: Gothic Elements in Old English Literature
Kent M. Pettit
Master’s Thesis, Valdosta State University, 2013
The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Gothic genre of literature is difficult to define. In reality, the genre is a set of tropes rather than a clearly articulated literary system. Interestingly, these Gothic elements are also apparent in several works in the Old English poetic tradition. Though these poems likely date some 800 years before the rise of the Gothic, a proto-Gothic impulse runs through Beowulf, Guthlac A, Andreas, and Juliana. This study intends to draws parallels between the classic Gothic elements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and these works of Old English literature. An examination of the elements common to both is centered in setting, villains, victims, and supernatural/superhuman rescuing agents. Extensive research has been done in AngloSaxon history and culture in order to understand the influences behind the early medieval literary works at hand. In addition, thorough research into ancient and medieval saints’ lives, particularly the hermitic warrior tradition, has been carried out to trace the connection between the liminality and monstrous aspects of this tradition and the Gothic. Special attention has also been given to the female saints’ lives tradition, linking patriarchal and sadistic oppressors to Gothic villains. Although definition is elusive, a definition of the Gothic has also been addressed. Through close readings of several key texts, this discussion attempts to reveal the connections between literature of vastly different times and cultural situations. The shared Gothic tropes suggest a connection, but the juxtapositions of radically different cultures both in the early medieval period and the Gothic/Romantic period may explain equally common impulses.