“Old Teutonic forebears”
: the presence and trace of the Early English in Cormac McCarthy’s East Tennessee

  • Devin Jacobsen

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis argues for the prevalence of an Old English stylistic register in Cormac McCarthy’s Tennessee novels, which I demonstrate that the writer often employs when drawing attention to the passage and processes of time. Moreover, this register coincides with McCarthy’s allusions to the Early English, with McCarthy refashioning traditional “Saxon” stereotypes to suggest that industrialization and its ensuing culture of consumerism are the condign downfall for a historically exploitative “race.” McCarthy gives this trend especial prominence in his two “Saxon” protagonists, Lester Ballard and Cornelius Suttree: Ballard’s consumeristic necrophilia reflects the predatory materialism of Sevier County, and Cornelius Suttree, following generations of Suttree patriarchs, attempts to evade death at the risk of exploiting others. The thesis also looks at Blood Meridian, which I interpret as a liminal novel between McCarthy’s Tennessee fiction and the fiction of his Western period. Blood Meridian continues the earlier novels’ interest in refashioning “Saxon” stereotypes, since McCarthy evokes the early medieval comitatus to embody the predatory consumerism of a “Saxon” justification for American westward expansion. Lastly, I turn to McCarthy’s most recent novel to date, The Road, in which the man and the boy pass through Tennessee and which suggests a “Germanic” influence that has persisted in the postapocalyptic world. In my discussion of The Road, I also point out that McCarthy recalls Old English elegies in his portrayal of ruins, impermanence, and exile. Until now, no work of scholarship has attempted a stylistic and thematic analysis of McCarthy’s debt to Early English language and literature. This thesis offers such an analysis and claims that McCarthy’s temporally sensitive fiction is attuned to the Early English, their language, literature, and continued influence on the present.
Date of Award28 Nov 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorChris Jones (Supervisor) & Emma Sophie Sutton (Supervisor)


  • Cormac McCarthy
  • Literature of the American South
  • Early English literature
  • Old English
  • Medievalism
  • Post-modern fiction
  • Medieval reception

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 4 October 2027

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