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Scenes of a sexual nature: theorising representations of sex and the sexual body in the sagas of the Icelanders

Keens, LA; (2016) Scenes of a sexual nature: theorising representations of sex and the sexual body in the sagas of the Icelanders. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis considers depictions of and discourse around sexual activity in the Íslendingasögur (the sagas of the Icelanders), also drawing on Eddic poetry, the samtíðarsögur (contemporary sagas), fornaldarsögur (legendary sagas) and riddarasögur (chivalric sagas) to give a broader view of sex in Old Norse literature. The Old Norse literary canon is extensive, and seduction, complicated love lives and sexual insults often lie at the heart of conflicts and fatalities. Where sex comes into focus, contextually and culturally relevant imagery and wordplay enliven the scenes, conveying the tension, humour, or erotic ambitions of the authors. The thesis explores how sex and sexuality are represented, possible reasons behind these methods, and their effect on the audience’s perspectives of sex and the body. Analysis of the language and context is supported by contemporaneous literature, cognitive metaphor theory and modern theories of sexuality and anthropology, providing fresh perspectives on well-known passages in the sagas. The first chapter concentrates on sexual metaphors, offering an assessment of different aspects of sexual language that feature in the sagas and identifying common themes, from the benign and regular euphemisms for sexual intercourse, to more obscure metaphors that are highly contextualised and ambiguous. The second chapter looks at public judgement in the form of gossip, which often serves as a vehicle for sexual material, as well as the methods and motivations behind its circulation. Chapter three considers the opposite: the private discussion of sex and sexual woes, with reference to Foucault and examples of the model of confession as precedent for honest and open discussion. The final chapter looks at how sex and the sexualised body are employed as a means of entertainment, bringing slapstick humour, jokes and grotesque imagery to even the bleakest situations, thus concluding an interdisciplinary, theoretically-inflected approach to the forms and functions of sex in the sagas.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Scenes of a sexual nature: theorising representations of sex and the sexual body in the sagas of the Icelanders
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1529348
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