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Unwillingness to Love in Medieval English Romance: Consent, Coercion, and the Conventions of the Genre

PIERCY, HANNAH,ELIZABETH (2021) Unwillingness to Love in Medieval English Romance: Consent, Coercion, and the Conventions of the Genre. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Unwillingness to love is a widespread motif within medieval English romance, which has been somewhat overlooked in previous scholarship. This thesis explores the presence of unwillingness to love across the tradition of medieval English romance, from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, from the Breton lai to Arthurian prose romance, and from canonical to lesser-known works. I investigate the functions unwillingness to love serves as a literary device, particularly the extent to which it can be seen as a subversive or conservative motif, upholding, undermining, or questioning socio-cultural expectations of love, marriage, and gendered conduct. The first two chapters of this thesis focus on what I call ‘romantic a(nti)pathy’, instances of unwillingness to love or marry in general, which both reveal and question the gendered constraints upon love and conduct in medieval literature and life. The subsequent three chapters explore unwillingness to participate in particular kinds of relationships: interclass marriages (Chapter 3), interfaith or interracial relationships (Chapter 4), and adulterous relationships (Chapter 5). While resisting these relationships reasserts conventional social and moral boundaries, the episodes I discuss also pose more complex questions by interacting with and reflecting upon the contrary romance motifs of love across social divides, religious conversion and interfaith relationships, and adulterous love. Across its various manifestations, unwillingness to love often elicits connections between romance narratives and their readers’ own concerns and experiences, I suggest, particularly in relation to issues of consent and coercion. Unwillingness to love offers a middle ground for reconsidering approaches to consent and coercion: positioned between raptus and mutual consent, it can reveal more of a varied and complex range of experiences. Drawing upon scholarship on marriage, gender, medieval readers, and queer theory, this thesis investigates the diverse functions of unwillingness to love as a romance motif.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:medieval romance; medieval studies; medieval literature; Middle English; consent; coercion; convention; gender; desire; the will; love; agency; rape; raptus; class; race; faith; adultery; marriage; queer theory; readership; audiences; motif
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2021
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 May 2021 09:43

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