Narrative Subversion in Medieval Literature


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About the Book

A story that follows a simple trajectory is seldom worth telling. But the unexpected overturning of narrative progress creates complexity and interest, directing the reader’s attention to the most powerful elements of a story. Exile, for example, upsets a protagonist’s hopes for a happy earthly life, emphasizing spiritual perception instead. Waking life interrupts dreams, just as dreams may redirect how one lives. Focusing on medieval literature, this study explores how narrative subversion works in such well known stories as Beowulf, Piers Plowman, Le Morte D’Arthur, The Canterbury Tales, Troylus and Criseyde, “Völuspá” and other Old Norse sagas, Grail quest romances, and many others.

About the Author(s)

E.L. Risden, emeritus professor of English at St. Norbert College, lives in De Pere, Wisconsin, where he continues to write literary and movie scholarship, speculative fiction, and occasional poetry.

Bibliographic Details

E.L. Risden
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 192
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2016
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7778-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2586-7
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Preface—Narrative Subversion: A Step Toward a Simple
Theory of Narrative 1
1—Lost in the ­Not-So-Funhouse: Subversive Threads in the Medieval Narrative Labyrinth 15
2—Narrative Subversion and the Solutionless Problem 38
3—An Aesthetics of Subversion in Beowulfian Narrative 49
4—Subverting Authority: Dryht, Allegory and Old English Exile Poems 62
5—Subverting Ends: Death and the Dead—or Not—in Völuspá and Some Sagas 76
6—Grail Quest Romances: Subverting a Happy Ending 88
7—Plowing, Bowing, Burning, Journeying: Penance and Subverting Penance in Medieval Literature 103
8—Malory’s Morte: Subverting the World’s Greatest Knight 113
9—Troilus and Cressida and Subverting Genre 124
Postscript—Meta-, Para-, Neo-, Socio-phrase: Gavin Douglas’s ­Sub-versive Eneados 157
Chapter Notes 167
Bibliography 177
Index 183

Book Reviews & Awards

Narrative Subversion in Medieval Literature is readable and teachable… As a theory, Risden’s notion of ‘narrative subversion’ is portable and not overly abstract, complicated, or technical, allowing it to be understood and applied… Coverage of so many varieties of medieval literature makes the book potentially useful… easily digestible”—Studies in Medieval & Renaissance Teaching