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.