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Queer Afterlives: The Old English Hero and the Scholarly Tradition

Juliette Vuille

Pages 201 - 219



This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0.

This article rethinks the scholarly tendency to focus primarily on Beowulf and male, pagan heroes when considering Old English heroism. It offers a more inclusive definition of Old English heroic poetry and of the Old English hero, one that does not consider women and Christian heroes as marginal iterations of the norm, but rather as an integral part of heroic stock. While the heroism of women such as Judith, Elene, and Juliana has been the subject of much scholarly interest, this interest has most often focused on how these women present a gendering of, or a departure from the heroic ideal. Women heroes have tended to be compared to the pagan Beowulf and found wanting. In contrast, I argue, with the example of the Old English Judith, that we should compare these figures’ heroic performance to other Christian heroes such as Andreas and Guthlac, to avoid any confusion between enacting a Christian heroism and a potentially specifically feminine heroism. I show that, in opposition to the tendency of scholars to focus on gender performance as, in one way or another, productive of heroism, the very heroism of a Judith or an Andreas in Old English poetry transcends gender binaries to become a queer performance.

Keywords: Heroism, Old English heroic poetry, gender, literary genre, Judith, queer, scholarly tradition


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