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Historical Context in The Were-Wolf
Origins of Literary Lycanthropy: The concept of lycanthrophy—the changing of humans into wolves, and vice versa—has its roots in European paganism and folklore. The idea was disseminated in the medieval period, culminating in persecuted individuals occasionally being accused alongside witches. Marie de France’s poem “Bisclavret” helped popularized a more sympathetic version of a werewolf, by showcasing a hero who is trapped by his condition rather than reveling in it. Housman’s portrayal of a female werewolf was fairly unique at the time, as most werewolves in popular culture were male (though women were also accused of lycanthropy).
The British Suffragette Movement: Clemence Housman was a leading figure in the English suffragette movement, which began in the late 1800s and resulted in women’s gaining the right to vote in 1928. Active in the Women’s Tax Resistance League and the Women’s Social and Political Union, Housman’s feminist leanings may have influenced her portrayal of the capable female werewolf, an uncommon choice of gender for the monster. The werewolf is synonymous with strength and cunning, a smart character who is equal to—or better than—the men she encounters.
Historical Context Examples in The Were-Wolf:
"to the far-away church, where salvation lay in the holy-water stoup at the door...." See in text (The Were-Wolf)
Christian has traveled to claim some holy water. In the Christian tradition, holy water is water that has been blessed by a priest. Used in a variety of sacramental rites, holy water is also said to ward off evil—and, according to Sweyn and Trella, kill werewolves, which is why Christian desires some so badly. The noun “stoup” refers to the container the water resides in, which is a basin along the church’s wall.
"girdle..." See in text (The Were-Wolf)
The noun “girdle” refers to a type of clothing, typically worn by women, that encircles the waist. It can be a simple belt or a fuller piece of cloth. While White Fell’s wearing a girdle would not draw any comment, that she carries a weapon in her girdle would—men carried weapons for more often than women. This signals her strength and self-sufficiency.