The Romance of Origins: Language and Sexual Difference in Middle English Literature

By Gayle Margherita | Go to book overview

2.Body and Metaphor in the Middle English Juliana

Very little has been written about medieval hagiography in general, still less about the three early Middle English legends known as the Katherine Group. The legends of Saints Katherine, Margaret, and Juliana are found together in two manuscripts: MS Bodley 34 and MS Royal 17A, which date from the first quarter of the thirteenth century. The texts are linked linguistically as well as thematically; together with the treatises known as the Ancrene Riwle and Hali Meidenhad, they represent an attempt at linguistic standardization.1 Written during a period of Anglo-Norman cultural and linguistic hegemony, these legends usually exclude romance vocabulary, simultaneously affirming Christian ideology and Anglo-Saxon ethnic identity. They have a specific ideological agenda, which would link faith and Englishness, theology and (the English) language.

This narrative strategy leads to more than a few contradictions. Positioning itself against courtly/romance ideology, the hagiographical text foregrounds the violence that subtends courtly discourse. By placing this violence in the service of Christian allegory, however, it also uncovers the generic similarity or mutual reflexivity of these two seemingly exclusive discursive systems. As hagiography depends on the specular strategies of romance in carrying out its ideological/allegorical agenda, so courtly romance conceals a subtext of aggression and violence equal to that of the Katherine texts.2 It is this paradox, this blurring of generic boundaries, that makes the Katherine legends, like Margery's Book, so troubling and so fascinating. In the pages that follow, I will explore the violence and violations of one of the Katherine texts: The Life and Passion of St. Juliana. The Juliana, like many of the legends of virgin martyrs, can be read as a drama of origins; it represents the sacrifice of the feminine or feminized body that enables the transcendence of logos, or, in Lacanian terms, of the paternal metaphor.3

The problem of origins has a particular urgency in the Katherine legends, moreover, that it lacks in others of the genre. Seeking to establish a

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The Romance of Origins: Language and Sexual Difference in Middle English Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Introduction: the Psychic Life of the Past 1
  • 1. Margery Kempe and the Pathology of Writing 15
  • 2. Body and Metaphor in the Middle English Juliana 43
  • 3 - Women and Riot in the Harley Lyrics 62
  • 4. Originary Fantasies and Chaucer's Book of the Duchess 82
  • 5. Historicity, Femininity, and Chaucer's Troilus 100
  • 6. Father Aeneas or Morgan the Goddess 129
  • Afterword: the Medieval Thing 153
  • Appendix 163
  • Notes 179
  • Bibliography 203
  • Index 211
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