Monsters and Monstrosities in British History, Literature and Culture

Throughout the centuries, monsters and monstrosities in many forms and shapes have been invented in literature and culture – from the anthropophagous monster in Beowulf to well-known monsters such as Frankenstein. Monsters and monstrosities are part of our culture and literary development since the earliest known manuscripts and oral traditions, presenting some of the most intricate nightmares and fears of human beings and creating a space to relocate the Other, the inexplicable, excluding and eliminating it from what was considered the "norm" at a certain time period. 

This course will introduce students to the notions of monsters and a great variety of male and female monstrosities from a historical, literary and cultural angle from the medieval period until the twenty-first century. Thereby we will not only focus on fictional accounts, such as Marie de Frances’ famous shape shifting werewolf narrative or Roald Dahl’s novel The Witches, but also take a look at historical accounts of "monstrous" human beings, such as Mary Toft, an 18th century lady who apparently gave birth to rabbits. While reading and analysing these texts within their historical contexts we will investigate questions such as: How are monsters defined, identified and constructed? How can the category of the monstrous help us define what is human? Are there any differences between male and female monstrosities? How have the ideas behind monsters and monstrosity changed and developed over time?