The Lady as Saint: A Collection of French Hagiographic Romances of the Thirteenth Centuryby Brigitte Cazelles
Pub. Date: 10/01/1991
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
The thirteenth century was the golden age of French verse hagiography, and more than half of the two hundred extant French saints' lives date from this period. Among the saints exalted are thirteen female martyrs and hermits of early Christianity. In The Lady as Saint, Brigitte Cazelles offers the first English translation of these lives and provides extensive commentary on the portrayal of female spirituality and perfection in the literary context of twelfth- and thirteenth-century France.
In her analysis, Cazelles poses two key questions. First, why this preference for heroines of a bygone era at the expense of more contemporary models of female spiritual perfection? Second, what did these early martyrs and hermits have in common with their thirteenth-century audience? Cazelles contends that the woman saint depicted in verse hagiography and the courtly lady depicted in secular literature share certain common characteristics: visibility, passivity, and silence.
But unlike the courtly lady -- and unlike the male subjects of saints' lives -- the female saint is explicitly corporeal. Spirituality is most often evidenced or expressed in the saint's battle to preserve her virginity; at some point in each of the lives, the saint is displayed stripped of her clothing and her naked body is mutilated by her tormentors. Cazelles argues that the violence in these stories demonstrates the sacrificial import of the portrayals. Further, she contends that the entire corpus of thirteenth-century French hagiographic romance is, in effect, a violation of the female body.
The Lady as Saint is an original and perceptive work. It will be of interest to scholars and students of French literature,medieval history, religious studies, and women's studies.
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