Monday, 10 January 2011

CFP: Before Man and God: Sin, Confession, Forgiveness and Redemption in the Anglo-Saxon World

Sixth Annual Postgraduate Conference
March 7-8, 2011
John Rylands Library, Deansgate
University of Manchester

Before Man and God
Sin, Confession, Forgiveness and Redemption in the Anglo-Saxon World

In Anglo-Saxon England, the priest was expected to teach both from the Bible and his Scriftboc (handbook of penance). He was to educate his flock in matters of sin, make judgements on the size of tariffs for penance, and show the sinner how to atone for his misdeeds. Sinners were urged to confess with humility all their sins, whatever their nature. Better to feel shame before a man now than to do so before God on Judgement Day!

This conference aims to draw together evidence for the practice of private confession throughout the Anglo-Saxon period and to situate it within the history of confession up to and including the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, when the Church stipulated an annual requirement for confession. In doing this, it also aims to explore the Anglo-Saxon world through its understanding of sin, confession, penance, forgiveness and redemption. It will ask questions such as: How did the theology of confession influence Anglo-Saxon society more broadly? What was the impact on law? How are sin and confession represented in literature, art and architecture? Can the evidence from penitential literature be understood as social commentary?

Postgraduate and early-career researchers are invited to submit abstracts of no more than 250 words for 20-minute papers that engage with the conference's themes. The following list of topics for consideration is not exhaustive:

  • Anglo-Saxon penitential literature: the relationship of vernacular texts to Latin sources; the relationship between penitentials and law codes; penance tariffs
  • Anglo-Saxon confessional literature within the history of private and/or public confession: comparative analysis of Irish and continental penitentials; comparative analysis of later confessional literature (twelfth- and thirteenth-century)
  • Sin as (theological) discourse: e.g. the meaning of sin, including guilt and shame
  • The priest and his scriftboc: pastoral care and education
  • Confession/penance and types of sin: e.g. sexual sins, theft, manslaughter
  • Fasting, almsgiving and singing psalms
  • Penitential/confessional dialogue
  • Confession and gender; confession and status
  • Anglo-Saxon readings of original sin
  • Confession as poetic motif
  • The confessional 'self'
  • Sin/the sinner/confession/penance in Anglo-Sexon art and sculpture
  • Judgement Day: the sinner before God in literature and/or art

A keynote address and masterclass will be delivered by Dr. Catherine Cubitt (York)

Submissions by January 28th, 2011 and registration enquiries to Christopher Monk.

Conference supported by SAGE, SAHC and John Rylands Library, Deansgate

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Review: Martin Millar, Lonely Werewolf Girl (Piatkus, 2009)

Given my interest in female werewolves, it's actually quite shocking that it has taken me this long to read Martin Millar's Lonely Werewolf Girl. First published in 2007, Millar's book tells the story of Kalix - the eponymous 'lonely werewolf girl' - an exiled daughter of the MacRinnalch clan.

After attacking her father for banishing her lover, Kalix is exiled from her Scottish home. When the novel begins, she is drifting through the streets of London, addicted to laudanum, anorexic (except when in werewolf form) and cutting herself. As all characters, including Kalix, constantly remind us, Kalix is "mad". If this were all the book had to offer, it would still be worthy of note. Millar's portrayal of the detachment, isolation and abjection of the self-harming anorexic, as well as the matter-of-fact comfort taken in self-destructive behaviours, is both sensitive and brutal - and utterly believable. The hopeless and hostile Kalix is neither victim nor abuser, and she requests neither our sympathy nor our censure. In fact, the lonely werewolf girl doesn't seem to want any emotional engagement from anyone - not the other characters in the book, and not the readers.

But readers, like the other characters, can't help but be drawn to Millar's creation. She is violent, antagonistic and destructive - but also sweet, loyal and heart-breakingly low on self-esteem: "Kalix felt like a young and very boring werewolf with nothing interesting to say. She wanted to leave but she couldn't seem to find an opportunity to say goodbye." Although Kalix tries her best to make herself difficult to like - something that her sister Thrix also feels about her - the novel sees her negotiating a number of unexpected new relationships, against her better judgement.

While Kalix attempts to make herself as near invisible as possible in London, trouble stirs in the MacRinnalch clan's Scottish home. Kalix's father has died, partly as a result of the injuries he received during his daughter's attack. This means that a new Thane must be selected, and Kalix's brothers - Markus and Sarapen - are each determined to fight (and fight dirty) for the title. The MacRinnalch werewolves are divided between the two brothers, which leads to violence, betrayal and plotting. Dragged into this conflict are Kalix's cousins, Butix and Delix, a pair of dissolute werewolves who have changed their names to Beauty and Delicious, dyed their hair and run off to London to be rock stars. In order to secure the support of the "cousins about whom the family did not speak", Mistress of the Werewolves Verasa sends Dominil, an intellectual but cold-hearted, white wolf to act as their band manager. Dominil is possibly my favourite character in the novel as, although Beauty and Delicious write songs about her entitled "Stupid Werewolf Bitch" and "Evil White-Haired Slut", everything she says makes complete sense, and she approaches life with a logical, rather than emotional, eye.

Like all the characters in the novel, Dominil has her flaws. And this is the major strength of Millar's writing. While much fantasy literature - and, to be honest, literature in general - still clings to the Mary/Eve distinction of female characters (put her on a pedestal or condemn her to Hell), Millar's creations are far more nuanced and layered. I would go as far as to argue that Millar has created some of the most fully-rounded, three-dimensional female werewolves that you will come across. Yes - they are highly sexed, aggresive and violent. But they are also by turns vain, selfish, obstinate, illiterate, intellectual, creative, loyal, vengeful, funny, drug-addicted, talented, gentle, caring, spoilt... In other words, Millar's female werewolves are about as close to human as you can get. Without wishing to make unfair generalizations, it is refreshing to see a male writer approach female characters by privileging 'character' over 'female'.

By contrast - and, as a feminist, I had to smile at the reversal of fortunes - Millar's male characters are, on the whole, a series of near caricatures. There is Sarapen, Kalix's older brother. Sarapen is a vicious and thuggish bully, whose idea of courtship is to abduct a woman and lock her in a cell. When she refuses his 'advances', he beats her to within an inch of her life. Cross-dressing Markus is the spoilt younger brother: a vain, preening mummy's boy who treats all women as objects to boost his vanity and sense of self-worth. Gawain, Kalix's idealized lost love, plays pretty much the role of the female love interest in the majority of fantasy fiction. The only exception to this portrayal of male characters is Daniel, the human boy who attempts to help Kalix in London. Daniel is boring and hopeless with women, but has a certain hapless charm about him. As events unfold and become increasingly dangerous and strange, Daniel is revealed to be a warm, sympathetic and loyal person, who becomes more and more likable as the novel progresses.

The innovation and originality of Lonely Werewolf Girl lie not in its basic plot nor in its version of werewolf mythology- both of these are in many ways similar to other fantasy fiction. However, the characterization in the novel is striking, and it is this that makes the novel one of the strongest female werewolf stories I have read. In addition to this, Millar's storytelling is quirky and compelling. The novel contains 236 short chapters, some of which are less than a page long, and moves briskly between scenes. This technique allows Millar to strictly control pacing, which is handled very well. As the story develops, the disparate scenes begin to come together, drawing the reader onwards to the climactic scenes. The combination of dynamic storytelling and careful characterization makes the conclusion very satisfying.

So, although I come late to the party, I now strongly recommend Lonely Werewolf Girl. Well-written, eccentric and some of the most memorable female werewolves in fiction.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Manchester: Then & Now Tour

I've recently been contacted by Walk Talk Tours with some interesting information about their audio tour of Manchester:

We're recently made our 2.4 mile (3.8km) Manchester: Then & Now tour completely free - for good.

The audio downloadable tour is available in MP3 format and can be played on iPods, iPhones, smart phones, MP3 players and other devices with MP3 playing capabilities.

The tour offers descriptions of "some of the key socio-economic developments and personalities responsible for shaping Manchester's past and present".

Check out their blog for more info.

The Lexis of Cloth and Clothing Project at the University of Manchester

Although this blog began life as a home for female werewolf-related news, I'd like to post about something slightly different - but equally interesting - today.

The Lexis of Cloth and Clothing Project at the University of Manchester is a major AHRC-funded project, headed up by Professor Gale Owen-Crocker and a dedicated team of academics and researchers, which will provide interdisciplinary research into the terminology of medieval dress and textiles in Britain (c.700-1450). Their website offers the following introduction to the project:

In the Middle Ages dress was an identifier of occupation, status, gender and ethnicity; textiles ranged through opulent, symbolic, utilitarian and recycled. Cloth production and international trade constituted a major sector of the economy of medieval Britain.

While the importance of cloth and textiles to medieval culture cannot be denied, researchers must currently look to a diverse range of disciplines, specialist dictionaries, artefacts and texts in order to explore the meanings and significances of a particular term or object. The Lexis Project is intended to offer an analytic corpus of the lexis of clothing and textile, and to offer a significant exploration of the development of this vocabulary. The project continues to assemble and examine citations and terminology in all the early languages of Britain and to provide a database of definitions, artefacts, images and technical processes.

I've been fortunate enough to already benefit from this project - despite the fact that my research is not primarily focused on medieval textiles. Last year, while working on the fourteenth-century werewolf poem William of Palerne, I gave a paper about a knight who has sex with a pillow. (ed. - How strange my life is sometimes!) I have become quite fixated on this knight and his relationship with his soft furnishings, and Professor Owen-Crocker was kind enough to encourage me to consult the Lexis database. In hardly any time at all, I was able to access a bank of information about medieval pillows, their uses and their connotations. The detail was fascinating - and certainly helped me to understand exactly what that poor knight was doing to the upholstery!

In addition to the database, The Lexis Project will also be producing The Encyclopaedia of Medieval Dress and Textiles, which will be published by Brill. The encyclopedia will comprise of essays and short pieces from research scholars from all over the world. The contents cover a vast array of subjects. I've co-written a piece on 'Cross-Dressing' with Professor Owen-Crocker, and other entries include armour, the wool trade, various literary texts and religious dress.

I'd strongly encourage anyone interested in medieval culture to check out the project website. The Word of the Month is a great feature, and is guaranteed to give you some insight into the significance of medieval cloth and clothing, as well as the continuation of these ideas beyond the Middle Ages.

For more information, click here.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Call for Submissions: Wolf-Girls: Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny

Call for Submissions


Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny

Submissions wanted for a new anthology of short stories of bad, bad, female werewolves. Kicking, biting, clawing, fighting: the new lycogyny is far from pretty. We're looking for new and established writers to contribute dark fiction tales for a new collection of stories filled with feral and feisty lupine femmes.

Editor: Hannah Kate

Publisher: Hic Dragones

What we want: Edgy dark fiction short stories about female werewolves. Male characters are, of course, allowed, but the central character(s) should be female. We have no preconceptions about what 'female' or 'werewolf' might mean - so all interpretations welcome. Any genre considered: dark fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, sci fi, steampunk, cyberpunk, biopunk, dystopian, crossover. Queer, trans, cis, straight are all welcome. High fantasy, revenge fantasy and anything about 'lunar cycles' and 'Mother Nature' will be considered, but are discouraged. Rather, we're looking for new takes on an old legend, stories that challenge and unsettle. (And it should go without saying that we won't be including any misogyny, misandry, homophobia, transphobia or racism!)

Word Count: 3000-5000

Submission Guidelines: Electronic submissions as .doc, .docx, .rtf attachments only. 12pt font, 1.5 or double spaced. Please ensure name, title and email address are included on attachment. Email submissions to this address. Submissions are welcome from anywhere, but must be in English.

Submission Deadline: Monday 4th April 2011

Payment: 1 contributor copy (how we wish it could be more!)

For more information, click here or email Hic Dragones.