Saints' Lives and the Rhetoric of Gender: Male and Female in Merovingian Hagiography

Synopsis

Medieval lives of female saints have attracted wide attention in recent years. Some scholars have argued that such texts reveal a distinctive form of female sanctity which only female hagiographers managed to properly articulate, and important writings have been attributed to female authors on that assumption. In this revisionist work, John Kitchen tests such claims through a close examination of several texts--lives of both male and female saints, by authors of both sexes--from sixth century France. He argues that sometimes the "authentic voice" of the female writer or saint sounds emphatically male. This study gives examples of how both male and female authors sometimes depicted holy women talking, acting, or even dressing like their male counterparts. Ultimately, the author aims to cast doubt on the assumption that male authors were ignorant of or hostile toward certain--specifically female--concerns. By the same token, Kitchen's work raises serious methodological problems with the gender approach to the hagiographic literature of the early Middle Ages.