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Ella’s bloody eagle: Sharon Turner’s History of the Anglo-Saxons and Anglo-Saxon history

  • Donna Beth Ellard
Article
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Abstract

This essay, inflected by the psychoanalytic research of Abraham and Torok and the sociopolitical implications of their work on transgenerational haunting, examines Sharon Turner’s History of the Anglo-Saxons as a crypt into which the unmourned losses and unacknowledged traumas of British colonialism are deposited. It argues that Turner, a historian inspired by the Old Norse poem Krákumál and driven by imperialist ideology, is haunted by a restless colonial ‘other.’ Its encrypted form stirs about the pages of his History, making ‘incomprehensible signals.’ Turner narrativizes these signals as the blood-eagle, ‘a cruel and inhuman retaliation’ that rips apart Ella’s body and tears out his lungs so that his Northumbrian kingdom might be conquered and colonized. Turner, terrified by the ghostly sounds that emerge from his narrative voice, buries Ella’s blood-eagled body within his History, which becomes a crypt across which Ella strays. This essay suggests that Turner, an ambiguous ‘father’ of Anglo-Saxon studies, has transmitted Ella’s blood eagle, an encrypted specter of empire, to his ‘children.’ It contextualizes scholarly quotes regarding the blood eagle within the setting of late-twentieth century decolonization, arguing that scholars return to the blood eagle and ‘act out’ the trauma that Turner has passed on to them to try and heal the hidden wounds of colonialism. This essay discusses Turner in order to ask what twenty-first century future has been and might be imagined for Anglo-Saxon history from over two centuries of wrestling with these encrypted ghosts of empire.

Notes

Acknowledgements

Research for this chapter was assisted by a New Faculty Fellows award from the American Council of Learned Societies, funded by The Andrew Mellon Foundation. A very special thank you to Melissa Gniadek for many conversations about this essay and others.

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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Donna Beth Ellard
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishRice UniversityHouston

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