Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Powers of the Holy: Religion, Politics, and Gender in Late Medieval English Culture

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Powers of the Holy: Religion, Politics, and Gender in Late Medieval English Culture

Article excerpt

David Aers and Lynn Staley, The Powers of the Holy: Religion, Politics, and Gender in Late Medieval English Culture (University Park, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996). 310 pp. ISBN 0-271-01541-1, L40.50, $45.00 (hard covers); 0-271-01542-x, 17.95, $19.95 (p/b).

David Aers and Lynn Staley are to be congratulated for countering some reductive, totalizing trends in recent criticism, reminding us that in late fourteenth-century England a range of different attitudes to the humanity of Christ was available, and that `the language of gender' was used for a variety of political and social purposes. Aers rehearses orthodox late medieval representations of Christ's body tortured in the Passion and shows that other views of Christ's 'lifestyle' - the social reformer of the Gospels, voice of freedom, opponent of worldly power - were politically more potent, and not forgotten by the Wycliffites or Langland, even if unaccountably 'marginalized' by recent writers, and he recalls that Julian of Norwich tended to eschew contemporary affective devotion in favour of intellectual analysis. Staley interestingly views Julian amid civic and national troubles of the 1370s and 1380s, and examines Chaucer's tales of Cecilia, Griselda, and Melibee, for covert evidence of his responses to the conflicting relationships of authority and power.

Both writers are fully am fait with the latest scholarship on late medieval English cultural politics and gender, and the bloated body of recent critical writings on `the body'. Correspondingly, the book is frustratingly academically self-regarding. It is a sad comment on the academy that it should be necessary for Aers to point out at great length that Lollardy was a countervoice to orthodoxy, or that it remains unproven that the 'feminized' body of Christ actually empowered real women - and who but an over-excited feminist critic would have believed that the blood flowing from the crown of thorns was `both "evocative of menstrual flow" and "blood lost in virginity", an allegedly "erotic" image' (p. …

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