The Gender of Death: A Cultural History in Art and Literature

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Why is it that in some cultures and times, literature, folklore, and art commonly represent death as a man, in others as a woman? Karl S. Guthke shows that these choices, which often contradict the grammatical gender of the word 'death' in the language concerned, are neither arbitrary nor accidental. In earlier centuries, the gender of the figure of death contributed to the interpretation of biblical narrative - in particular, whether the original sin was that of Adam or Eve - and also reflected the importance of the classical figure of Thanatos. More recently, the gender of death as angel, lover, or bride - whether terrifying or welcome - has carried powerful psychological and social connotations. Tracing the gender of representations of death in art and literature from medieval times to the present day, Guthke offers astonishing new insights into the nature and perception of the Western self in its cultural, intellectual, and literary context.