“Shorn from Her Side”: The “Sectio in Mortua” in Two Danish Ballads


Ailie Westbrook (University of Wisconsin, Madison)

In ‘Dronning Dagmars Død,’ Queen Dagmar dies in childbirth and her son is ‘shorn’ from her side. In ‘Varulven,’ a werewolf violently attacks a pregnant woman and ‘splits’ open her side in order to steal her son. Although these two extractions have quite different contexts, they demonstrate the ways folklore can be used to explore the uneasy relationship between female self-sacrifice and male self-interest in the ‘sectio in mortua.’ The motif of the ‘sectio in mortua’ is used to explore anxiety about death in childbirth, but also to construct mirroring images of women as saintly or victimized sacrifices.

Part of 26-06 Folksong, Agency, and Social Critique, Tuesday, October 19, 5:15 pm–6:45 pm