Wombs are not comfortable organs for historians of gender and sexuality. The womb symbolizes outdated, hetero-patriarchal and biologically essentialist definitions and limitations of woman, representing all that which queer and feminist theories work to disrupt. Meanwhile, technologies of alternative gestation – IVF, cloning, gene engineering – are associated firmly with progress and the future. Caught between these emphases on obsolescence and futurity, the queer history of the womb slips away from us. I seek, however, to historicise a medieval queer womb and, with it, a long medieval history of alternative reproductive activity. Representations of inventive, nonconforming, ‘queer’ gestation are ubiquitous in medieval culture. Eve, the first woman, is a clone, born from the rib of man. God himself is made human through in vitro fertilisation, gestated in the ‘glass vessel’ of the Virgin’s womb, and introduced into that vessel via her ear. Elizabeth, barren cousin of the Virgin, becomes miraculously pregnant in her old age, one of a long line of ‘infertile’ Biblical mothers. Nature is there to be superseded; adapted; sublimated. By tracing the histories of these various medieval reproductive acts, I seek to re-centre the womb in queer history.
Lucy Allen-Goss is an Irish Research Council postdoctoral fellow in the History department at Trinity College, Dublin. Her current research explores cultural constructions of pregnancy loss in medieval England. She has published a book titled Female Desire in Chaucer's Legend of Good Women and Middle English Romance (Boydell and Brewer, 2020).
All welcome- this seminar is free to attend, but advance registration is required.