Male Authors, Female Readers: Representation and Subjectivity in Middle English Devotional Literature

Male Authors, Female Readers: Representation and Subjectivity in Middle English Devotional Literature

Male Authors, Female Readers: Representation and Subjectivity in Middle English Devotional Literature

Male Authors, Female Readers: Representation and Subjectivity in Middle English Devotional Literature

Synopsis

"Although written to increase their female audience's religious fervor, devotional texts implicitly promoted cultural values drawn from other discourses as well. Within the same text, Bartlett shows, a woman reader might be invited to identify not only with the temptress reviled by misogynistic ascetics, but simultaneously with the courtly domina, the supportive spiritual friend of the author, or with the erotic sponsa Christi. Because of the varying levels of literacy of medieval women readers, however - as well as the abundance of competing representations of those readers - the overt messages of devotional texts were interrupted and distorted. As Bartlett analyzes the complex relationship between misogynistic literature and the development of female subjectivity in the Middle Ages, she helps refute the assumption common among feminist critics that women necessarily internalize negative portrayals. An appendix lists and describes all extant books and manuscripts that were owned by medieval English nuns and convents." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

This book began to take its initial shape during a discussion that followed a paper I delivered in 1988 as part of a panel titled "Foucault and the Female Body." My topic was gender and the formation of the self in Aelred of Rievaulx's De institutione inclusarum (c. 1161). The presentation traced what I identified as the masculinist presuppositions of Aelred's text, from its superimposition of a male physiology of desire on female readers to its insistent repetition of conventional medieval antifeminist representations, such as the Gossip, the Whore, and the Fickle Woman. My conclusion was that the self produced by this treatise was a "reoriented" one: women readers were presented with negative stereotypes of the feminine and persuaded to adopt masculine perspectives on sex, spirituality, and identity. But after I had read my paper, a colleague challenged my line of reasoning. In essence, he asked, "So what were the alternatives for women readers?"

The disturbing, and yet deceptive, simplicity of this question perplexed me. At a time when critical theory -- particularly feminist and poststructuralist criticism -- had just begun to gain acceptance in medieval scholarship, I had been so intent on doing my theory "right" and on "proving my case" against Aelred of Rievaulx's treatise that I hadn't considered the larger implications which my paper hinted at and which my colleague's question pointedly raised. Were the misogynistic representations of the feminine which I had described really as univocal and as unproblematically internalized as I had assumed? Or, were there theoretical and practical ways -- for medieval as well as for modern . . .

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