Revenants from the Church to literature
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Factual accounts of revenants – the risen dead – seized the medieval imagination in the early eleventh century, and were recorded by serious historians and ecclesiastics as true. They then began to appear in secular imaginative literature and art, growing progressively more elaborate and frightening throughout the Middle Ages whilst retaining many of the religious overtones expressed overtly in the ecclesiastic tales. By the early modern and modern period, the tales were removed from any overt religious context and were told as purely imaginative literature. The academic half of this thesis explores the influence on the tales of the Christian doctrine of resurrection and the cult of the body of Christ and of the saints, then traces the migration of those tales into imaginative literature from the Middle Ages to the present. It identifies key motifs from the medieval chronicles and imaginative literature that continue to appear in modern stories, and explores the extent to which Christian eschatology altered perceptions of the dead and why, in an increasingly secular context, fascination with such tales continued into modern literature, what part fear of death played throughout this period, and how that fear was expressed, first in an ecclesiastical context, then in imaginative literature through horror stories. The creative half of my thesis is a literary fiction novel updating a medieval revenant tale, the Legend of the Three Living and the Three Dead, to twenty-first century New England.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: Print and electronic copy restricted until 15th December 2020
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations