Maria Dahvana Headley’s The Mere Wife is a contemporary, feminist retelling of the epic medieval poem Beowulf. On the very first page, Headley makes reference to Julian of Norwich, a medieval religious solitary, who recorded visions of Christ. Soon after, she introduces a saint with a flame in her chest who keeps the protagonist company and a number of lonely, exiled monsters who stalk the margins of the novel’s world but are not exactly as they seem.
This paper will explore how the novel is inspired by a variety of medieval genres, such as saints’ lives and devotional writings, in its exploration of the perils and the plenty of solitude. In particular, it will argue that Headley pays homage to such medieval works in her use of nature as a vehicle for articulating not only the loneliness attendant on solitude but also the transformative spaces it can create, in which different kinds of connection can be forged.
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