Plain ugly

The unattractive body in early modern culture

Author:
Naomi Baker
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This book investigates representations of the unattractive human body in early modern English culture, examining in particular the role played by depictions of the unsightly body in the construction of specific models of identity. It provides a set of texts that can deepen their understanding of the culture and society of the twelfth-century German kingdom. The sources translated bring to life the activities of five noblemen and noblewomen. The book focuses on the ugly characters found in English literature and drama, and also refers to wider European texts and discourses, including Italian and other European visual art. It explores whether ugliness is an objective property or a subjective perception. Ugly men are often represented as Silenus figures, their unappealing exteriors belying their inner nobility. Carrier of diseases and transgressor of sexual, social and physical norms, the ugly woman horrifies and nauseates, provoking a violent response. The manner in which these women are 'defeatured' aligns their acquired ugliness with the erasure of identity rather than its consolidation. The usefulness of the ugly woman as a means of consolidating specific forms of masculine identity is particularly visible in some texts written in praise of unattractive mistresses. Works 'celebrating' ugly women ultimately draw attention to the male creative genius that is capable of transforming even unsightly female matter into compelling art. Eluding simple categorisations and dismantling the most fundamental of social and subjective binaries, ugly figures burst repeatedly on to the scene in early modern texts, often in the most unexpected of places.

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