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Perpetual bodily trauma: wounding and memory in the Middle English romances
  1. Jamie McKinstry
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jamie McKinstry, Department of English Studies, Durham University, Hallgarth House, 77, Hallgarth Street, Durham DH1 3AY, UK; j.a.mckinstry{at}


In the 21st century, the concept of trauma is deeply ingrained in psychological discourse despite the term's origins in literal, physical wounding and affecting experience. However, to understand the sources or causes of trauma, psychologists recognise the paramount importance of somatic evidence. The body provides corporeal systems for inputs that might trigger a later remembrance which might be auditory, visual, even tactile. The same body will continue to experience the trauma throughout its life, only alleviated, perhaps, by an appropriate therapeutic or chemical treatment. The body is therefore an important source of the trauma as an affected entity inscribed with experience, but the corporeal form also offers a way in which to identify and understand traumatic suffering itself. In the medieval period, trauma or violent experiences were similarly viewed as corporeal inscriptions which may fade but, metaphorically, remain immediately wounding. This paper explores the presentation of trauma in medieval romances, narratives strewn with injured bodies and correspondingly altered personalities and reputations, and compares this with contemporary research relating to trauma and the neurobiology of consciousness. The core issue is one of experience and expression: how an individual feels and continues to suffer trauma, and the ways in which that suffering can be communicated to those around. Through considering this issue, the paper argues for a relationship between the human experience of trauma across the centuries, and with this the combination of corporeal symbol and affect, and the dynamic interaction of a wounded body with time and its later life.

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