Brothers and Sisters in Medieval European Literature

Brothers and Sisters in Medieval European Literature

Carolyne Larrington


York Medieval Press



A wideranging and groundbreaking investigation of the sibling relationship as shown in European literature, from 500 to 1500.
The literature of the European Middle Ages attends closely to the relationship of brother and sister, laying bare sibling behaviours in their most dramatic forms as models to emulate, to marvel at or to avoid. The literary treatment of siblings opens up multiple perspectives on brothers' and sisters' emotions: love, hate, rivalry, desire, nurturing and ambivalence underlie sibling stories. These narratives are in turn inflected by rank, social context and most crucially, gender.
This book examines these sibling relationships, focusing on the important vernacular literatures of Iceland, France, England and Germany, and building on recent research on siblings in psychology, history and social science. Multiple and subtle patterns in sibling interaction are teased out, such as the essential sibling task of "borderwork" (the establishment of individuality despite genetic resemblance), and the tensions caused by the easy substitutability of one sibling for another in certain social situations. When the sibling bond is extended to the in-law relation, complex emotional, strategic and political forces and powerful ambivalences nuance the relationship still further. Quasi-siblings: foster- or sworn-brothers complete the sibling picture in ways which reflect and contrast with the sibling blood-tie.

Carolyne Larrington is a Fellow and Tutor in medieval English literature at St John's College, University of Oxford.


May 2015
285 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781903153628
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
York Medieval Press
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Table of Contents

The Medieval Sibling in History
'Berr er hverr á bakinu nema sér bróur eigi': Fraternal Love and Loyalty
'Io v'ho cara quanto sorella si dee avere': Sisters, and their Brothers
'Næs æt andæges ni': Fraternal Hatreds
'Te souviegne de ce que je suis ta seur': Sisters and Hostility
'The king's dochter gaes wi child to her brither': Sibling Incest
'So wil ich dir ce wibe mine swester gebn': When Siblings Marry
'Trewethes togider that gun plight': Fictive Siblings


Fascinating and wide-ranging.... An enjoyable and thought-provoking read. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

The universal nature and complex dynamics of sibling relationships make this an interesting addition to York Medieval Press's project and a necessary resource for any scholar interested in familial relationships in the Middle Ages. Recommended. CHOICE

Carolyne Larrington's new study is a useful addition to the small but growing field of medieval sibling studies. THE MEDIEVAL REVIEW

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