On a Quest for Manhood: Re-Imagining Medieval Masculinities and Male Maturation in Contemporary Arthurian Adaptations for Adolescents

Kazianka, Lisa 

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Since the Middle Ages, the Arthurian legend has enjoyed a principal status in Western literature and culture. Throughout this long history, contributions to and adaptations of the legend have been deeply concerned with gender identity and ideals, masculinity in particular. These concerns have also been palpable in literature produced for the young. In this dissertation I offer close readings of contemporary Arthurian young adult (YA) novels that move beyond the traditional Arthurian material but maintain recognisable links to the legend. I discuss the ways these so-called variations of the legend enter into dialogue with, de-/reconstruct, and problematise the gendered values and ideologies of the Arthurian tradition and contemporary society. I examine the ways each narrative relates to past and present Anglo-American discourses about masculinities and male maturation, highlighting, in particular, how Arthurian adaptations published between 1998 and 2007 are connected to turn-of-the-century men’s movement discourses and the boy crisis debate. I also discuss the ways these recent Arthurian narratives fit within twenty-first-century YA discourses surrounding ‘hybrid’ masculinities and queer subjectivities. Methodologically, the study presented here merges ideas from masculinity studies, post-structuralist feminism, queer theory, adaptation theory, narratology, medievalism studies, and young adult literature criticism. It draws on theoretical and empirical research from various disciplines, including sociology, psychology, history, and literature. Research on Arthuriana for adolescents has been dominated by a focus on female subjectivities and empowerment. The purpose of the present study is to extend this line of inquiry by centring masculinities, while, importantly, understanding masculinity as independent from cis male bodies. Chapters 1 to 3 discuss Arthurian YA adaptations that focus on cis male protagonists and their journeys towards manhood, while Chapter 4 examines an adaptation that presents two cross-dressing characters, depicts masculinity as performance, and complicates essentialist and binarist views on gender. My analysis demonstrates the ways protagonists move between ‘closed’ and ‘open’ masculinities, explores the notion of reconfigured hegemonic forms of masculinity, and highlights the limitations of current theoretical views on cross-dressing in literature. This dissertation is intended as a contribution to scholarship on Arthurian adaptations for children and young adults, an area of inquiry that is still in its infancy. It also aims to enrich the critical conversation surrounding masculinities and their literary representations, especially in texts produced for the young, and particularly in relation to maturation. Crucially, this study demonstrates the value of interdisciplinarity for studying masculinities.

Jaques, Zoe
Whitley, David
King Arthur, Arthurian legend, medievalism, young adult fiction, masculinities, gender, cross-dressing, maturation
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
AHRC (1948070)
AHRC, Churchill College