Deformed Discourse

BookDeformed Discourse

Deformed Discourse

The Function of the Monster in Mediaeval Thought and Literature

Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies


August 1st, 1999



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Now published in paperback, this fully-illustrated book explores the concept of the monster in the Middle Ages, examining its philosophical and theological roots and analysing its symbolic function in medieval literature and art. Fascinating and comprehensive, this study of the grotesque in medieval aesthetic expression successfully brings together medieval research and modern criticism.

This fundamental study marks a milestone in the history of research on the monstrous in the Middle Ages and on Western ways of thinking. I can state without hesitation that Williams has produced a magnum opus on this subject, with a highly personal approach, providing an overview of all previous works on the monster and the philosophical, theological, aesthetic, and literary context. His vision is at once encyclopedic, critical, and completely fresh ... This is clearly the work of a researcher in full maturity. Its many qualities place it in the front rank.
Claude-Claire Kappler, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Paris

Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Paris.[translation]

A work of encyclopaedic scope and informed depth, this study of the monstrous in medieval culture is a major addition to earlier theories of the grotesque.


A stimulating and convincing insight into the philosophical and literary significance of teratology, the study of monsters, in the European Middle Ages ... This study can be used in at least two ways. First, it can be seen as a well-argued and well-documented monograph which makes sense of a complex set of ideas and images. Secondly, it can be used an encyclopaedic introduction to many neglected aspects of mediaeval iconography and as a vade mecum for the shadowy but fascinating world of the monstrous.

The Downside Review , vol.118, no. 410

... a cogent and satisfying work ... which will have a continued impact in the ongoing discussion of monsters in the Middle Ages.

Religion and Literature, Vol. 29.3, Autumn

The theory which underpins Deformed Discourse is closely and cogently argued. The treatment of monstrosity as an engine of paradox, purging the mind of the temptations of mimesis, is a fruitful and illuminating one, engaging both with modern semiotics and with the aspirational character of mystical discourse, in which plain analogy will never bear the spirit far enough on its journey.

Review of English Studies Vol.49, No 196

Author Information

David Williams is Professor of English at McGill University, Canada.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Title Page4
Copyright Page5
Part One Theory36
1 The Context of the Monstrous38
2 The Language of the Monstrous76
Part Two Taxonomy120
3 The Body Monstrous122
4 Nature Monstrous192
5 Monstrous Concepts231
Part Three Texts244
6 Three Heroes246
7 Three Saints300
8 Conclusion338