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School of Modern Languages & Cultures

Current Postgraduate Students

Ms Charlotte Norton

PhD Research Student in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures

Contact Ms Charlotte Norton (email at charlotte.norton@durham.ac.uk)

Biography

My research project is based primarilyaround exploring the specificity of the monstrous in French texts dating from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. While some scholars (such as Cohen and Gilmore) argue for the universality of the monstrous, my project intends to investigate the ways in which a specific monster is rooted in its own time and culture. If we are to understand its message, the monster must be interpreted with an awareness of the society in which it appears and an awareness of the possibility of universal symbolism. We must also remain aware of the ways in which a given society interpreted its own monsters. Rich examples of medieval interpretations of monsters abound; from commentaries on the Bible to Augustine, from Isidore of Seville to the Liber Monstrorum and the Bestiary. Part of my project explores the ways in which animals were categorised and what happens when a creature does not fit into the categories. Characters combining elements of two or more normally discreet categories, such as werewolves, wild men, and cross-dressers abound in medieval texts and invariably pose a direct or indirect challenge to the status quo, transcending 'natural' animal/human, male/female, dead/alive boundaries and therefore calling those boundaries into question. I am particularly interested in the way in which discourses around gender intersect with discourses of monstrosity. Female bodies are directly described as akin to monsters by Aristotle and later Thomas Aquinas. A key question that has guided my research is whether or not female bodies are seen as being inferior, mysterious, 'Other' or just different, and especially whether or not they are seen as being in some way monstrous. If women's bodies are seen to be problematic or flawed versions of male bodies, does this have implications in terms of the monstrous? (If a monster is a being with a body that deviates from the norm, is the norm a male norm and where do women fit?) Meanwhile medieval lists of monsters often include hermaphroditi, read along with other monstra as wondrous symbols inscribed by a divine hand to carry a didactic function, and writers of romance were fascinated by the notion of bi-gendered heroes such as the protagonist of the Roman de Silence. I explore the ways in which literature opens up alternative realities - 'spaces for dreaming' (Warner) - allowing for sympathetic werewolves (Bisclavret, Biclarel, Melion), snake women who are also ideal mothers (Mélusine), bi-gendered knights (Roman de Silence), and a whole host of other hybrid beings.

Selected Publications

Conference papers

  • (Forthcoming), The Weird and the Wonderful: Gender and Monstrosity in the Middle Ages, Crossroads in Cultural Studies. Paris.
  • (2011), Being Queer in the Thirteenth Century, Public Engagement in Gender and Sexuality (PEGS) Conference. Newcastle University, Newcastle.
  • (2010), The Grail and the Lance: Magic or Miracle? Hybrid Symbols in Chrétien de Troye's Perceval and the Anonymous Queste del Saint Graal, Conference of the International Arthurian Society. Cambridge University, Cambridge.

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