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

By Anne Clark Bartlett | Go to book overview

IV
Ghostly Sister in Jesus Christ": Spiritual Friendship and Sexual Politics

Around the end of the fifteenth century, a close friendship developed between James Grenehalgh, a Carthusian brother from Sheen, and Joanna Sewell, a nun at the nearby Bridgittine house of Syon.1 Their alliance is documented rather enigmatically in the margins of several devotional manuscripts that the prolific Grenehalgh annotated, apparently with Sewell in mind. Using her initials and his own characteristic trefoil, as well as sporadic marginal commentary, Grenehalgh called attention to specific passages that appear designed both to further Sewell's spiritual development and to reflect on the changing circumstances of their relationship. That Grenehalgh saw himself as Sewell's spiritual mentor and friend is clear from the many instructional sections that he marks with her initials, and with such comments as: "Follow not the book [i.e., Hilton's Scale of Perfection] in this, but rule according to discretion and take counsel" (p. 94), and "Let it seem hard to you, and too bitter, to be allied eternally with the devil; [but] let it seem sweet to you to labor a while in the service of Christ, that afterward you may joy with Christ without end" (p. 100). Such marked passages urge Sewell to abandon temporal pleasures, to attune her spiritual senses, and to fix her attention on the promised delights of the afterlife.

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1
See Michael Sargent, James Grenebalgh as Textual Critic, 2 vols. ( Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, 1984).

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