UCL Discovery
UCL home » Library Services » Electronic resources » UCL Discovery

'The Skull Beneath the Skin': Elite Women and Self-starvation in Early Modern English Culture

Garwood, SH; (2013) 'The Skull Beneath the Skin': Elite Women and Self-starvation in Early Modern English Culture. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

Full text not available from this repository.


Anthropologist Carole M. Counihan states ‘the predominant role of women in feeding is a cultural universal, a major component of female identity, and an important source of female connections to and influence over others’. In early modern English ideology, a gendered concept of virtue hinged on self-denial and sexual continence, the connection between sex and food was a common cultural trope, and femininity was primarily associated with nature and the body rather than a (masculine) intellectual. Thus women’s ingestion of food became ideologically fraught: an acceptance and perpetuation of individual circumstance and subordinate status. Refusing it, therefore, is an act of disruption. This thesis selects case studies of elite women, whose symbolic function and position at the apex of household structure rendered them uniquely able to refuse readily available nutrition. Often royal, the state of their bodies possessed great practical and political significance. After focusing specifically on the motivations, effects and uses of food refusal for women including Catherine of Aragon, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth I, Katherine Grey, and Arbella Stuart, this thesis then analyses male playwrights' attempts to reappropriate the specifically feminine behaviours of self-starvation and reintegrate them into the dominant cultural paradigm, with special attention to works inspired or influenced by its case studies. Examining ideological manipulations (for instance, inedia as self-inflicted punishment for sexual transgression rather than a defiant assertion of the right to sexuality, or an acceptable means of suicide in response to oppression or violation), it aims to explore ways in which physicality and femininity can be deconstructed and reconstructed to serve particular ideological needs and moments, and concludes by discussing elite women's behaviour in relation to modern-day anorexia and eating disorders, reflecting on similarities, differences and the cultural and psychological insights offered by the comparison.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: 'The Skull Beneath the Skin': Elite Women and Self-starvation in Early Modern English Culture
Language: English
Additional information: Permission for digitisation not received.
Keywords: women, self-starvation, food refusal, sex, food, early modern women, sexuality, body in culture, anorexia, Arbella Stuart, Katherine Grey, Elizabeth I, Mary Tudor, Tudor, Stuart, Royal women, queens, psychology of food
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1397062
Downloads since deposit
Download activity - last month
Download activity - last 12 months
Downloads by country - last 12 months

Archive Staff Only

View Item View Item