Figuring “Sleeping Beauty”: Metamorphosis of a Literary and Cultural Trope in European Fairy Tales and Medicine, c. 1350-1700

Sarnyai,, Lili (2016) Figuring “Sleeping Beauty”: Metamorphosis of a Literary and Cultural Trope in European Fairy Tales and Medicine, c. 1350-1700. Doctoral thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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This thesis takes an interdisciplinary approach to a recurrent cultural trope: the figure of the sleeping beauty. Sleeping beauties are young women—paradigms of femininity, paragons of virtue and physical perfection—who lose consciousness and become comatose and catatonic, for prolonged periods. In this unnatural state, these female bodies remain intact: materially incorrupt, aesthetically unblemished. Thus can the body of the sleeping beauty be defined as an enigma and a paradox: a nexus of competing and unanswered questions, uniquely worthy of investigation. This thesis examines the metamorphoses of the figure of the sleeping beauty in literature and medicine between c.1350 and 1700 in order to interrogate the enduring aesthetic and epistemological fascination that she exercises in different contexts: her potency to entrance, her capacity to charm, in both literary and philosophical realms. The widespread presence of the sleeping beauty in literature and art, as well as in the broader social sphere, over the centuries, indicates the figure’s important and ongoing cultural role. Central to this role is the figure’s dual nature and functionality. On the one hand, conceptualized as allegories, sleeping beauties act as receptacles for a complex matrix of patriarchal fears, desires and beliefs about the female body in general, and the virgin and maternal bodies in particular. On the other hand, understood as material or bodily entities, sleeping beauties make these same ideological questions incarnate. Sleeping beauties are, therefore, signs, treated as material bodies, a tension which this thesis explores. As such, they are prime subjects for cross-disciplinary correlational study and historicist analysis: vehicles for comparison and dialogue between literature, medicine, and religion on the issues of power and passivity, sexuality and gender difference, mortality and beauty, nature and the unnatural or supernatural. Sleeping beauties negotiate the boundaries of human desire for, and capacity for belief in, miracles and wonders.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
School/Department: School of Arts > European Cultures & Languages
Depositing User: ORBIT Editor
Date Deposited: 21 Apr 2017 16:57
Last Modified: 21 Apr 2017 16:57

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