Mavis Mate

title.none: Wogan-Brown, et al, Medieval Women (Mavis Mate)

identifier.other: baj9928.0207.022 02.07.22

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Mavis Mate, University of Oregon, memate@OREGON.UOREGON.EDU

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Wogan-Browne, Jocelyn, Rosalynn Voaden, Arlyn Diamond, Ann Hutchison, Carol Meale and Lesley Johnson, eds. Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts in Late Medieval Britain, Essays for Felicity Riddy. Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts 3. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2000. Pp. xv, 433. $50.00. ISBN: 2-503-50979-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.07.22

Wogan-Browne, Jocelyn, Rosalynn Voaden, Arlyn Diamond, Ann Hutchison, Carol Meale and Lesley Johnson, eds. Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts in Late Medieval Britain, Essays for Felicity Riddy. Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts 3. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2000. Pp. xv, 433. $50.00. ISBN: 2-503-50979-7.

Reviewed by:

Mavis Mate
University of Oregon

This book, in honor of Felicity Riddy, was produced to celebrate the scholarly "process" that she advocated as well as the end results. (9) Thus it is deliberately interdisciplinary, and articles utilize a wide variety of sources from legal cases to actual buildings to conduct books, romances and saints lives. Above all the collection seeks to embody the values that Riddy endorsed of cooperative and innovative scholarship that pushes the boundaries of existing knowledge. In practice, however, these goals proved difficult to reach and many of the essays, although containing interesting and valuable material, trod paths already well traveled.

Of the twenty three essays in the book, ten use as their base a discussion of literary texts. Helen Phillips analyzes the language of Marian lyrics and suggests that their semantic dichotomies express an unresolved conflict between the high position that in theology is granted to a woman and the low value and esteem that society in general places on female qualities. Ceridwen Lloyd-Morgan, looking at Welsh female poets who participated in the literary debate known as the querelle des femmes, shows how they refute male accusations of female misbehavior. In providing counter examples of virtuous women, the poets drew from Welsh traditions in addition to the more common biblical and classical ones, and, in the process, provided evidence of men's injustice to women over long periods. Lloyd-Morgan extends her analysis into poems written by women in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and is able to show that similar themes appear.

Two essays deal with the text The Book of Margery Kempe, but from very different angles. Sarah Rees Jones, in one of the truly original papers, insists that the Book is not an autobiography, but a work of fiction, and one that perhaps was "written by clergy, for clergy and about clergy". (391) Through her encounters with the lesser clergy, Margery implicitly criticizes their lives, but in each stage of her spiritual journey she is rescued by the bishops. Thus the text asserts the need for reform within the church, but, at the same time, reaffirms the authority of the episcopacy over their clergy. In conclusion Rees Jones raises the question does the book really reflect a female voice, or does the powerful, domestic nature of Margery's religion, her hysteria, and her emphasis on chastity, reflect not what women wanted, but what men wanted women to be? The essay by Carol Meale, on the other hand, assumes that the Book arose out of the religious experience of a real woman, and can be used to gauge the accessibility and status of popular drama within late medieval society. She concludes that Margery Kempe, and many other women, were likely to have seen one of the municipal play cycles and such performances could have a profound impact on their lives.

The question--how should women behave--is treated in a cluster of papers. Carolyn Collette looks at the work of Phillipe de Mezieres, a contemporary of Chaucer. Although writing before Christine de Pizan, de Mezieres' stories, like Christine's, emphasize the public nature of the marriage bond, and the power of women within that bond to stabilize or destabilize society either through their virtue and female prudence or, on the other hand, through their uncontrolled passions. Kim Phillips compares the advice given in late fifteenth century English printed texts about matters such as posture, gaze, greetings etc. with behavior depicted in three manuscript romances of the same period. She finds that the romances tend to be conservative, dwelling on an idealized feudal past, and to emphasize behavior appropriate to social status, whereas in the printed texts these concerns are over-ridden by anxiety about feminine sexual purity. Patricia Cullum and Jeremy Goldberg look at the manuscript illumination in the book of hours known as the Bolton Hours. They believe that the Hours was in fact commissioned by Margaret Blackburn (the wife of a leading York merchant) to use as instruction with her three unmarried daughters, who may have been going into service. Margaret Blackburn, for example, is shown as kneeling in devotion before St. Sitha, who was a servant, but also a model of feminine piety and chastity.

Three essays were written from the perspective of an historian and show what can be done with fragmentary pieces of evidence. Peter Biller, not surprisingly, finds that Catharism in northern Europe was essentially similar in its ecclesiastical structure and liturgy to the movement in the south despite their different social and political milieu. He is, however, able to show that the movement spread to England, with a Cathar mission there in the 1160s and in the thirteenth century an English female heretic glimpsed passing through Roquevidal on her way to Lombardy. Mark Ormrod analyzes the depictions of royal women in accounts of events during and after the Peasants' Revolt of 1381, making good use of the tools of literary critics. Whereas the king's mother, Joan of Kent, was portrayed as a victim, suffering humiliation at the hands of the rebels, the king's wife, Anne of Bohemia, became an agent of reconciliation, pleading for the amnesty ultimately granted to the rebels. These images then deeply affected their later lives, condemning Joan of Kent to a life of political obscurity. Colin Richmond looks at the life of Elisabeth Clere, best known for her loan of a necklace to Margaret Paston. Using the Paston Letters, coupled with other evidence, he is able to build up a picture of her relations with the Pastons, her management of her estates and her charitable acts. Elisabeth emerges as a woman of integrity, sincerity and honesty.

The value of new approaches to the questions of women's position in society is exemplified in the essays by Jane Grenville and Noel Menuge. Grenville discusses the role of buildings and their contents, including movable partitions, in creating social structures. The placement of a doorway and the position of a room within a house, for example, can help to delineate public from private space. The essays ends with a discussion of two medieval town-houses in York. In one case space to the rear of the building was progressively subdivided and commercial activities were consciously removed from the rest of the space and in the other the attic storey was sub- divided with no access between the front and back rooms. Overall Grenville sees material conditions as an active agent in the construction of social relations rather than simply a mirror of them. Noel Menuge, in his discussion of a York marriage dispute, provides a salutary reminder that in legal cases plaintiffs and defendants will structure and re- structure recalled events in order to fit the resolution of the case they are seeking. Thus legal depositions can be as much a work of fiction as any prose romance.

The overall quality of writing and scholarship in this collection is high and it has not been possible to do justice to all essays. Although, perhaps, of most use to scholars of literature, nearly every reader will find within it something of interest. The women that are portrayed in these pages-- from virgin martyrs embracing suffering to Scottish noblewomen collecting books--appear as women of strength, making the best use of the options that life brings them.