Gender and Text in the Later Middle Ages

By Jane Chance | Go to book overview
speaking in a language patriarchal in nature, authoritative discourse, cuts off women (and men) from their body, "castrates" the language; Christine de Pizan uses the male (but pagan and therefore hardly patristic) figure of Cupid to defend women against defamation by men and to give them a voice. Her fear is articulated by a violent Cupid acting like a man and not as a man. Finally, the danger of using language at all, patriarchal, castrated, as it may be, leads women like the late Spanish religious figures Sor María of Santo Domingo and Madre Juana de la Cruz to substitute the literal female body as a text. Bleeding from the side and rapturous vision speak for them, or allow them to speak as women.As we learn more about women who wrote or inscribed "texts" in the Middle Ages, we will understand better what might be termed a feminine tradition of letters, with its own literary conventions and topoi. Already we have located a convention of feminine desire within the trobairitz lyrics of the twelfth century and a topos of eroticism within feminine mysticism of the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. Spurning (or adapting) the Western and patristic exegetical traditions associated with masculine clerical literacy, women turned to Eastern and North African traditions, to nonratiocinative techniques, to popular cultural and oral modes of theater and sermonizing to disseminate the results of their direct access to God. Signs of "Premature Reformation," to draw on Anne Hudson's phrase, they also mark a distinctly female form of dissent and revolution in theology and writing. Understanding the process and fact of such change will facilitate a rewriting of cultural and literary history. Toward the reconstruction of a medieval feminine aesthetic this volume is devoted.
Works Cited
A different version of this essay was delivered as a keynote address on "Reading Medieval Women" at the Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association meeting at Utah State University, May 12, 1995.
Allen Judson Boyce. The Friar as Critic: Literary Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1971.
Auerbach Eric. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1957.
Bloch R. Howard. "Medieval Misogyny". Representations 20 ( 1987): 1-24.
Bynum Caroline Walker. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.
-----. Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.
Bynum Caroline Walker, Stevan Harrel, and Paula Richman, eds. Gender and Religion: On the Complexity of Symbols. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986.

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