The appropriation of the medieval motif by nineteenth-century British women writers

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Paul Theiner


medieval motif, British women writers

Subject Categories

Literature in English, British Isles


The purpose of this study was to determine if and to what extent nineteenth-century British women writers employed medieval motifs in their novels and poetry. The investigation was prompted by the pervasive nature of medievalism in almost all segments of (male) society, a phenomenon which has been acknowledged and documented at length. I wanted to discover if women writers were also influenced by medieval survivals and revivals, and if so, to ascertain to what degree their usage was similar to or differed from that of their male colleagues. To test my thesis, I located women-authored texts, spanning the century, which employed medieval motifs. From my investigation I was able to deduce that while medievalism may at first glance appear to be a male-oriented, male-dominated motif, women in large numbers appropriated its imagery. For example, I considered the figure of the medieval damsel, as portrayed by nineteenth-century women authors, and traced her development through the century, comparing her evolution into a more forceful, assertive character to the greater freedoms British women gradually acquired. Subsequent chapters examine how women re-worked the medieval figure of the knight; how they re-created incidents from medieval history; and, lastly, how they employed medievalism in children's fiction. Those women authors studied in detail include: Dora Greenwell, Dinah Mulock Craik, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, Felicia Hemans, Letitia Elizabeth Landon, Charlotte Yonge, Jean Ingelow, Mary Neville, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Edna Lyall.


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