Date of Award

12-2013

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Jana K. Schulman

Second Advisor

Dr. Richard Utz

Third Advisor

Dr. Eve Salisbury

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Sarah Hill

Abstract

Conventionally, scholars have viewed representations of the natural world in Anglo-Saxon (Old English) literature as peripheral, static, or largely symbolic: a “backdrop” before which the events of human and divine history unfold. In “Old English Ecologies,” I apply the relatively new critical perspectives of ecocriticism and placebased study to the Anglo-Saxon canon to reveal the depth and changeability in these literary landscapes. Overall, this interdisciplinary study of Anglo-Saxon texts brings together literary and environmental sources and modes of inquiry to explore the place of humans (and non-humans) within the natural environments of Anglo-Saxon England, as well as the ways in which natural cycles and processes are reflected in Anglo-Saxon literature and culture. Looking to Old English scriptural, hagiographical, epic, gnomic, and elegiac poetry, as well as homilies, prayers, and philosophical and didactic works, I locate imagined or figurative landscapes in these texts. Employing ecocritical theory, I find intersections between these figurative spaces—the mead-hall, the conventional “center” of human society in the Anglo-Saxon world, as well as the lonely worlds of exile (water, wood, and wilderness), and the grave, the earthly body’s final “home”—and their actual counterparts. Ultimately, the project confronts the conventional reading of the Anglo-Saxon worldview of earth’s impending and inevitable decay with evidence that cyclical and seasonal views of time pervade the works of the period. By juxtaposing my ecological readings with archaeological reports and landscape histories, I am able to expose the paradoxes of finding one’s literary, actual, and ecological place(s) in an Anglo-Saxon landscape that is always in flux, yet trapped in stasis.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

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