The Haunted Island: Medieval History and the Old English Elegies in Brenda Chamberlain's Tide-race (1962)

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This article explores the relationship between Tide-race, a 1962 memoir by the Welsh poet and artist Brenda Chamberlain, and medieval culture and literature on Ynys Enlli. Written in the decades after the Second World War when Chamberlain had left mainland Wales, Tide-race is a memoir of the artist’s time on Enlli living with its small community of fishermen and farmers. In contrast to other works of twentieth-century island literature, I argue, Chamberlain rejected dominant, medieval patriarchal histories of Enlli, refusing to read the island as a male monastic site, or as a Welsh nationalist or cultural space. Tide-race is a medieval modern text that is deeply ambivalent about what medieval culture means for modern conceptions of identity, specifically Welshness and womanhood. Chamberlain’s late modernist work has been neglected because of her status as a Welsh woman writer working outside of the centres of modernism, and she has never been considered in the context of Medievalism Studies. By bringing archival material from the Brenda Chamberlain papers at the National Library of Wales together with the published memoir, this article brings to light an unremarked upon interest in Old English literature and traces the development of Chamberlain’s medievalism in the post-war period. Although her use of the Old English elegies – The Wanderer, The Seafarer and The Wife’s Lament – has remained unnoticed by Chamberlain’s critics, these early medieval poems are translated and adapted in her prose in ways that allow her to exorcize old grudges and challenge masculine ideals.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberhgad092
Number of pages21
JournalReview of English Studies
Early online date9 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2023

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2023


  • Old English Literature
  • Welsh Writing in English
  • archive studies
  • late modernism
  • Medievalism
  • Women's writing

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