From Beasts to Souls

Gender and Embodiment in Medieval Europe

Edited by E. Jane Burns and Peggy McCracken

The Middle Ages provides a particularly rich trove of hybrid creatures, semi-human beings, and composite bodies: we need only consider manuscript pages and stone capitals in Romanesque churches to picture the myriad figures incorporating both human and animal elements that allow movement between, and even confusion of, components of each realm.

From Beasts to Souls: Gender and Embodiment in Medieval Europe raises the issues of species and gender in tandem, asking readers to consider more fully what happens to gender in medieval representations of nonhuman embodiment. The contributors reflect on the gender of stones and the soul, of worms and dragons, showing that medieval cultural artifacts, whether literary, historical, or visual, do not limit questions of gender to predictable forms of human or semi-human embodiment. By expanding what counts as “the body” in medieval cultural studies, the essays shift our understanding of gendered embodiment and articulate new perspectives on its range, functions, and effects on a broader theoretical spectrum. Drawing on depictions of differently bodied creatures in the Middle Ages, they dislodge and reconfigure long-standing views of the body as always human and the human body as merely male and female.

The essays address a number of cultural contexts and academic disciplines: from French and English literature to objects of Germanic and Netherlandish material culture, from theological debates to literary concerns with the soul. They engage with issues of gender and embodiment located in stones, skeletons, and snake tails, swan-knights, and werewolves, along with a host of other unexpected places in a thought-provoking addition to somatic cultural history.

E. Jane Burns is the Druscilla French Distinguished Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, and adjunct professor of English and comparative literature at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Peggy McCracken is professor of French, women’s studies, and comparative literature at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Contributors: Matilda Tomaryn Bruckner, E. Jane Burns, Jeffrey J. Cohen, Dyan Elliott, Noah D. Guynn, Peggy McCracken, Ann Marie Rasmussen, and Elizabeth Robertson.

“From Beasts to Souls: Gender and Embodiment in Medieval Europe is a cogent, well-conceived addition to the dynamic field of cultural studies of the body. The essays are extremely strong, with contributions that are both insightful and provocative.” — Suzanne Conklin Akbari, University of Toronto

“This timely collection of essays deals with questions preoccupying many scholars, not only medievalists, about the directions that are being taken by posthumanism and their impact on those earlier outcomes of deconstruction, feminism, and queer theory. There are many fine scholars represented in this volume, and the quality of the chapters is excellent.” — Sarah Kay, New York University


“The anthology’s contributors are an elite group of illuminati, educated and employed at the best schools and representing a particular wisdom of the present age ‘to dislodge and reconfigure the long-standing constraints imposed by an understanding of the body as always human and of the human body as merely male and female.’” — Choice