Annual Toller Lecture (26 April, 2021)

This year’s annual Toller Memorial Lecture at the University of Manchester will be delivered by Prof Catherine Clarke (IHR) on the topic of ‘Reading Trauma in Early Medieval English Texts’. Below, you will find an abstract for Prof Clarke’s lecture. 

The lecture will take place on Monday 26 April at 5pm, via Zoom. Attendance is free of charge but please email me ( to receive the Zoom link and passcode. 

A poster is available here:  

Reading trauma in early medieval English texts 

Early medieval literature and culture, and especially Beowulf, have gained increasing public visibility as a site where we read trauma and recognise affinities or parallels with present-day traumatic experience: from Heaney’s comparison of the grieving Geat woman to a figure from ‘Rwanda or Kosovo’, to the ‘Operation Beowulf’ project rehabilitating UK soldiers with PTSD through archaeology, to Maria Dahvana Headley’s provocative re-imagining of Grendel’s mother in The Mere Wife and her radical new verse translation of Beowulf. This lecture will look again at Beowulf, as well as other early medieval English sources in the vernacular and Latin, to explore where and how we might read trauma in these texts. Drawing on key insights in trauma theory and work on trauma writing, this analysis will pay particular attention to form and structure, from the prosimetrical style of the Vita Ædwardi Regis to the narrative ‘digressions’ of Beowulf, moving current scholarly interest in medieval trauma away from a search for direct representation and towards a more nuanced appraisal of formal features. How reasonable is it for present-day audiences to read trauma in these early medieval English texts? And to what extent could it be legitimate to consider them ‘trauma writing’? 

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