This thesis explores and explains the recurring presence of the adulterous female character in narratives from the medieval period to the modern, with reference to four narratives: The Arabian Nights and The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer from the medieval period, where there is a plentiful reservoir of tales about adulterous wives, as well as in the more recent novels of Lady Chatterley's Lover (1929) by the British novelist D. H. Lawrence, and A Certain Woman (2001) by the Egyptian novelist Hala El Badry, where the innate stream of thoughts of the contemporary adulterous wife and her struggles from a personal, social, and psychological aspects are represented. Through the exploration of these texts, this study seeks to go beyond stereotypes and question the standard view of the adulterous woman, by examining the reasons behind the act of adultery itself. Motivations for the adulteries are examined using diverse theoretical frameworks that cross various disciplinary borders and draw insights from literary criticism, psychoanalysis, philosophy, and gender studies. Given the broad historical and geographical contexts that this study covers, as well as the differences in fictional conventions, the lapse of time, and the developments in narrative genres, this thesis attempts to trace the evolutionary progress of the adulterous female character and the transformation of her image from the medieval tale to the modern novel. Instead of the flat condemnation evident in the older narratives, the contemporary adulteress is alternatively approached from within, where her feelings and the driving forces behind her adulteries are examined.


English & Comparative Literature Department

Degree Name

MA in English & Comparative Literature

Graduation Date


Submission Date

May 2012

First Advisor

Ghazoul, Ferial



Document Type

Master's Thesis

Library of Congress Subject Heading 1

Adultery in literature.

Library of Congress Subject Heading 2

Women and literature -- History and criticism.


The author retains all rights with regard to copyright. The author certifies that written permission from the owner(s) of third-party copyrighted matter included in the thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study has been obtained. The author further certifies that IRB approval has been obtained for this thesis, or that IRB approval is not necessary for this thesis. Insofar as this thesis, dissertation, paper, or record of study is an educational record as defined in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 USC 1232g), the author has granted consent to disclosure of it to anyone who requests a copy.

Institutional Review Board (IRB) Approval

Not necessary for this item


This thesis was written during one of the most difficult periods of my life. I look back at the year that has passed â inundated by revolution, tiol unrest, death and the loss of loved ones â and I feel it is a wonder that the coming pages of this thesis were ever written under those trying circumstances. I can confidently say that this research, which had stagted in the wake of these circumstances, would never have seen the light were it not for family and friends who stood by me every step of the way: they tolerated my melodrama, listened to me, humored me, encouraged me, pulled my head out of the water when I was drowning in sorrow, and stayed by me when I needed them the most. They believed in me, when for a while, I didn't. I am blessed with my dear friends; Angela Hafez, Cherif Abdullah, Chitra Kalyani, Farida Lawindy, Michael Raafat, da Nosseir, Shahdan Adel and Suzan Kewy â where would I have been without them? They kept me sane, cheered me on, and stayed close by me like family. They've shown me what true friendship is. I am forever indebted to them and can only hope to return even a portion of the care they have given me. I am also completely indebted to my professor, thesis advisor, and mentor, Dr. Ferial Ghazoul. It was she who re-shaped my love for literature from the moment I walked into her class in 2005, and with whom I was lucky enough to have taken most of my courses during the duration of my MA. I take pride in being her student, and believe that her guidance, patience (extreme patience!), and undying support are major factors in making this thesis possible. I would also like to thank the members of my thesis committee, Dr. Amy Motlagh and Dr. Ira Dworkin, for their invaluable advice, guidance, and support in completing this thesis. I would also like to extend a special and sincere thank you to my dear friend of many years, Fernd Cohen, for his undying support and guidance, for his confidence in me, for both his criticism and praise, for being the voice of reason (and humor), and for being my second pair of eyes over the years. I am truly grateful for his presence, as both an invaluable friend and respected mentor. I also cannot forget my dear friend Christopher Micklethwait, who saved me by shipping books that I desperately needed, encouraged me to keep writing, and who â virtually' kept me company during the long nights of research. The person to whom I am most indebted (and to whom this thesis is dedicated) is my mother, Tawhida Ahmed El-Sayed. During her life, she pushed me to be the best I could be, and taught me that education is my weapon; more important than money and dearer than gold. Everything I am, anything I have achieved, I owe to her. It breaks my heart that she cannot read these words, and that she will not witness the graduation we both waited for. These notions have often made me falter, but her memory has kept me going. I sincerely hope that I have done her proud. May her soul be blessed. I am truly lucky, truly grateful, that my life has been touched by everyone I've mentioned on this page. I could never ever have done this without you.