Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Mary Dzon

Committee Members

Laura Howes, Heather Hirschfeld, Gina Di Salvo


Extant in seven 14th- and 15th-century Middle English manuscripts, the apocryphal Life of Adam and Eve narrates the aftermath of the first humans’ expulsion from Eden. These texts feature a series of bodily/embodied experiences that help to elucidate Adam and Eve’s postlapsarian mortality. The authors of these accounts focus extensively on the physical suffering that the pair undergo as they attempt to survive outside Eden and come to grips with the ramification of their sin. The texts spend a significant amount of time following Eve’s suffering in particular, including her continual despair and the trauma of her first experience of childbirth.

My dissertation explores the protoplasts’ experiences as representations of medieval religious practices and social concerns. Unlike previous scholarship on this little-known apocryphal narrative, which has tended to focus on genre analysis and questions of morality, my approach centers on the body. I apply close reading and historical and cultural contextualization to the texts, as well as feminist body theory, as my forms of analysis. Chapter 1 serves as an overview of medieval theories of the body. In Chapter 2, I find that the texts’ ability to serve as a penitence narrative is jeopardized by the reality of Adam and Eve’s starvation. In Chapter 3, I argue that the Life primarily uses Eve to explore how medieval methods of penance are realized in the human body. In Chapter 4, I argue that after the loss of the boundaries of Eden, Eve seeks to deal with the consequences of her fleshiness by imposing boundaries upon herself.

Available for download on Wednesday, August 15, 2029

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