BEYOND DEADLY SINS AND VIRGIN IMPAIRMENTS: MEDIEVAL BODIES IN DISABILITY STUDIES
While the medieval lexicon did not include a comprehensive term for disability as we understand it today, images of impaired and disabled bodies proliferate in Middle English texts. This dissertation investigates textual representations of the material body across some of the most popular genres of the later Middle Ages (religious exempla, confessional literature, and hagiography) to demonstrate how medieval authors implement impaired bodies in service of spiritual exploration. I show how impaired medieval bodies that are often excluded from discussions of disability—for instance, personified sins, aging bodies, and martyrs’ bodies—are represented in distinctly material terms, drawing attention to medieval authors’ complex and nuanced explorations of bodily difference. Through sustained close readings and attention to medieval authors’ engagement with their source texts, I find that the impaired body operates as a generative site for engagement with significant ontological questions of the period —and that these textual depictions ultimately reveal the body’s resistance to easy or straightforward categorization. Moreover, my research demonstrates the utility of a more nuanced disability studies approach to medieval literature, intervening in current discussions about the ethics of applying the lens of disability to historical texts.
- Doctor of Philosophy
- West Lafayette