Sewanee English major Claire Crow (C'21), along with her peer Bramwell Atkins (C'21), spent this spring studying at Oxford University in England. During her work there Claire completed a dissertation which won the Proxime Accessit prize, one of two program-based prizes voted on by an academic committee of tutors and professors who oversee the CMRS-Oxford program. Claire's dissertation was supervised by Dr. Hannah Ryley, a tutor at Magdalen College, Oxford who taught Claire's class on women and literature in the Middle Ages.
An abstract of Claire's award-winning dissertation is included below:
In light of historical accounts of the legendary medieval ruler Charlemagne utilizing Islamic goods to entice Europeans and to produce commerce, along with Edward Said’s conditions of Orientalism, the poet of the Middle English romance The Sowdone of Babylone certainly partakes in the Orientalist literary tradition through a linguistic economy of the Other. The paradoxical shortages and surpluses of ethnic descriptors of the oriental female saracen body suggest that the poet has consciously constructed a racialized discourse built upon the commodified Other. Viewing the Saracen woman as capital helps demonstrate how the oriental female body defines, agitates, or even threatens masculine Christian identity. Despite the unification of Floripas and the black giantess Barrok under the blanket term ‘Saracen,’ a rigid dichotomy exists between the princess’s and giant’s physical descriptions. In terms of princess Floripas, no physical descriptions of her occur in the text other than a few vague modifiers here and there; whereas the dark-skinned giantess, who appears in only one textual moment, garners an excess of ethnic descriptors which promulgate her monstrous behavior and quasi-human features. Nonetheless, this sharp contrast in physicality does not change the fact that both typologies of the oriental female body in The Sowdone help constitute the poet’s racialized discourse which expresses the Latin West’s perceptions and fears of the East; and when such discourse utilizes aggressive Saracen women, it produces anxiety about distorted female behavior, bodily otherness in the Orient, and the realistic possibility of an infiltration of abnormal femininities into the Latin West.
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