‘Sight of her is a vomit’
Abject bodies and Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy
in Plain ugly
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Julia Kristeva's theorisation of the abject sheds light on the function of representations of ugly characters in the maintenance of early modern subjectivity. Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy highlights the role played by abusive descriptions of ugly women in the construction of early modern subjectivity. The ugly woman in early modern English literature largely perpetuates established literary and rhetorical models of female ugliness. Early modern English poems depicting ugly hags are often framed as a male speaker's response to a sexual or verbal assault by a repulsive woman. Symbolically aligned with lepers, menstruating women similarly evoke a horrific state of non-differentiation which marks them as 'non-holy'. While excessive thinness potentially suggests consumption or the ravages of poverty and age, obesity is also linked with disease in early modern writing.

Plain ugly

The unattractive body in early modern culture


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