Stanford University. As an undergrad I had probably
the greatest opportunity in my life to look at the
Exeter manuscript, which is one of the only four
Old English poetic codices. My honors thesis
looks at images of the monstrous-feminine
in Old English verse. The monstrous-feminine, as
distinct from female monsters, is any monster whose monstrosity
is located in her femininity. The monstrous-feminine
is more like the Medusa, where her feminine attribute of
unbound hair is the scary part. My honors thesis aims to
get to the bottom of why the monstrous-feminine and the
monstrous-feminine utterance are such continuing
tropes in the literature and artistic
production of the West, starting from the 10th
century to absolutely contemporary films and
art and performance. Over the summer between
junior and senior years, I got a grant to work
at the British Library in London, which holds
the Beowulf manuscript, and to go to Exeter and
look at the Exeter Book. It was brought out,
and I could see it and touch it and sort
of smell it and feel it. It was just a very
emotional experience for me, because it was this
book that contained the hand prints and the
breath and the lives of all of these people who
touched it and handled it, all of these people who I’m
trying so hard to picture again and bring them back to life. For more, please visit
us at

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. This is a fascinating and under discussed subject. I encourage Ms. Sen to give us a longer lecture on the Monstrous Feminine.

  2. Not sure I understand her question/thesis. Why are some women given "monstrous" characteristics in western literature? Perhaps its because some people can truly be  "monstrous"? Monsters make for good stories and exaggerating human faults by turning them into monsters is a convenient way of inserting a statement.
    A better question would be why is this a mystery to someone attending Stanford?

  3. This interestingly gave me nostalgia for the book Possession. (Which followed an academic who was also interested in the monstrous feminine. : ) Very cool.

  4. This is the first time I've heard of the concept of the "monstrous feminine" but I recognise the awe and disgust some men feel in the presence of women…she has blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her whatever…milk leaking from breasts…disgusting…

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