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Supernatural Visitation in Medieval Literature



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Lipson, Joel 


Supernatural Visitation, broadly defined as the narratively bounded appearance of an otherworldly personage (or Visitant) to a human recipient (or Visited), represents a highly widespread and cross-generic literary motif throughout the Late Middle Ages. Although previous studies have considered the cultural origins, taxonomic limitations and contextual import of select supernatural beings - e.g. angels, fairies, demons and revenants - in select medieval texts, no study has yet attempted to articulate or model the literary operations of such figures in terms of a unifying narratological scheme. This thesis proposes the typological category of Supernatural Visitation as a means to examine these linguistically, generically and chronologically diverse episodes as instances of a ubiquitous but hitherto uncodified literary tradition. Drawing primarily upon romances, histories, exempla, mirabilia, hagiographies, magical grimoires and comic fabliaux composed between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, this thesis argues that medieval Visitation episodes are intimately concerned with notions of human agency. Medieval authors, by employing the inherited conventions of Supernatural Visitation to context-specific ends, operate within a distinct narrative space which allows them to deconstruct and redefine the presumed limits of human influence in the face of non-human powers. By examining the development of several subsidiary Visitation motifs employed during this period, this thesis also examines changing models of human autonomy represented in medieval narrative writing.





Wade, James


Supernatural, Visitation, Medieval, Literature, Narratology, Typology, English, Latin


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
AHRC (2105833)