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This article argues that the embodied characterization of Grendel’s mother offers us an alternative heroic model for women, from the titular hero, Beowulf, around whose heroic life and legacy the Old English poem is structured and more usually celebrated. In doing so, it addresses the problematic legacy of the heroic, masculinist poem and its pedagogical role as a canonical text for English literature and national identity which also informs our cultural attitudes to gender-based violence. This article examines female masculinity in the embodied Beowulf wetlands to recover an alternative, powerful, legacy for feminism. Grounded within previous feminist, queer, ecofeminist, and ecocritical literary and theoretical scholarship, and the recent feminist translation of Beowulf, my analyses of the Old English poem is situated within the newly emerging, embodied contexts of what I term radical ecofeminism. Radical ecofeminist readings respond to the violence shaping early medieval female literary identities and landscapes within embodied configurations of gender, race, and the environment, and reveal situated knowledge, hitherto, denied to us because these identities and their histories have been elided or subsumed. Key to understanding how knowledge production is coercively shaped by masculinist frameworks of gender, language, and the environment, this article turns to fluidity as a theoretical and socially effective space to demonstrate how gendered configurations are framed by violence. The linguistic analysis of the Old English word fæst (solid, fixed) reveals how its usage in the poem creates contrast between (masculine-dominated) civilization and (feminine-dominated) wildness to safeguard masculine civilization against un-fæst femininity in all its destabilizing forms. This article concludes to show how the historical suppression and control of women and non-binary identities has been maintained through spatial configurations of heteronormative masculinity which recreate successive versions of male leadership in locations of their situated authority.


Beowulf, environment, female masculinities, feminist, gender-based violence, Grendel’s Mother, heroic Old English, queer, wetlands