English Seminar: Into the Wild: Characterising Hagar in Medieval Texts
Emma Knowles, ‘Into the Wild: Characterising Hagar in Medieval Texts’
Abstract: Ecocriticism and medieval biblical poetry might, at first glance, seem an odd mix. In this paper, however, I will argue that such a combination is actually the basis for a fruitful reinterpretation of the Old English poem Genesis A and related texts. Hagar and her son Ishmael are marginal figures in the biblical book of Genesis, sitting both inside and outside of Abraham’s family. Where previous studies have tended to focus on the familial connections between Abraham, his wife Sarah, and Hagar and her son, I will approach their representation — particularly that of Hagar — through a closer examination of their experiences in the desert, a space shown to be on the geographical margins. Until recently much scholarship had assumed that natural spaces, and in particular wilderness spaces outside of human civilisation, were represented by medieval authors as only dangerous and threatening to humans. However, offering a reading informed by recent ecocritical thinking, I will approach the wilderness in Genesis A as a more productive space. I will argue that in this episode we see the wild desert as a space in which Hagar encounters God and experiences personal growth. By paying closer attention to this landscape we gain a better understanding of Hagar and her son, as well as of broader Anglo-Saxon attitudes towards the natural world and the interpretation of biblical stories and settings.
Biography: Dr Emma Knowles completed her PhD in April 2019 in the Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic department at the University of Cambridge. Her dissertation, titled ‘“And eall worulde gesceaft”: Re-Reading the Natural World in Old English Biblical Poetry’, focused on the representation of nature in the Old English poems Genesis A, Exodus and Daniel. Emma’s research interests also include Middle English literature, Arthurian literature and medievalism, and she has previously published on Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur.
This event will be held online via Zoom.
Contact person: Liam Semler (firstname.lastname@example.org).