Sublime petrification: The Medusa as motif in the male Romantic poets

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Kathryn S. Freeman - Committee Chair


A close look at the attitudes of male Romantic poets toward a nature they viewed as feminine reveals their complex ambivalence toward a feminized sublime. In its alluring and petrifying aspects, the Medusal figure appears as a recurrent motif that represents the poets' contention with the ambivalence toward the sublime and the difficulties in expressing it poetically. The contraries of the sublime manifest themselves as horror merged with fascination, fear merged with desire; mythological and psychoanalytic contexts of Medusa also reveal these same contraries and therefore provide an effective frame for this argument. The Medusal figure provides a vehicle through which the poet can project his anxiety and desire that is catalyzed by the sublime; to varying degrees, each male British Romantic poets illustrates the potentiality and danger of such projections. Therefore, the exploration of a Medusal motif links the vastly different male poets of the period, showing the pursuit of the sublime to be inextricably linked with both the female and the Medusal mixtures of contraries she embodies. Medusal figures, in various metamorphoses through the works of British male Romantic poets, may appear as female destroyers, goddesses, victims, and even male exiles. More than just the sum of eyes and hair, in all these transformations, she reflects in her petrifying gaze both the poet's hope and fear of penetrating the mysteries of the feminized sublime.


Literature, English

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