Emma Campbell

title.none: Ogden, Hagiography (Emma Campbell)

identifier.other: baj9928.0508.025 05.08.25

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Emma Campbell, University of Leeds,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Ogden, Amy V. Hagiography, Romance and the Vie de Sainte Eufrosine. Series: The Edward C. Armstrong Monographs on Medieval Literature, vol. 13. Princeton: The Edward C. Armstrong Monographs, 2003. Pp. xiv, 261. ISBN: 0-9707991-2-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.08.25

Ogden, Amy V. Hagiography, Romance and the Vie de Sainte Eufrosine. Series: The Edward C. Armstrong Monographs on Medieval Literature, vol. 13. Princeton: The Edward C. Armstrong Monographs, 2003. Pp. xiv, 261. ISBN: 0-9707991-2-8.

Reviewed by:

Emma Campbell
University of Leeds

Medieval hagiography has traditionally been a neglected area of literary investigation, not least in the field of medieval French studies. However, as research in this area is increasingly demonstrating, saints' lives, as one of the largest and most popular genres of French vernacular literature, constitute an important resource for literary criticism. Quite apart from the significance of the corpus itself, hagiography provides a wealth of material ripe for literary investigation. As scholars such as Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Simon Gaunt, Karl Uitti, Duncan Robertson, Brigitte Cazelles and Sarah Kay have indicated, medieval hagiography in French is often ideologically and stylistically complex, providing a distinctive counterpoint and complement to medieval romance, as well as constituting an important literature in its own right.

Amy V. Ogden's monograph is a welcome addition to the growing (if still relatively scarce) secondary literature in this area. It constitutes the first book-length study of the Vie de sainte Eufrosine: a saint's life written at the beginning of the thirteenth century (c.1200) and extant in four manuscripts which date from the early thirteenth to the mid-fourteenth century. Ogden's discussion of the poem aims to shed light on its complexity as a work of hagiographic romance and thus incorporates discussion of the poem's evolution in the various manuscripts that preserve it, as well as including close comparison of the Vie with both ecclesiastical writings and romance literature. Ogden's study thus begins with a chapter examining the different values represented by the poem's various manuscript versions, and then, in the remaining four chapters of the book, moves on to discuss the text's treatment of themes such as love and friendship in the complementary contexts of ecclesiastical and secular literature.

Chapter One argues that the four surviving manuscripts of the Vie present evidence of scribal reworking that was designed, in each case, to allow the text to communicate its message in a certain way. As Ogden demonstrates, the manuscripts in question are all coherent collections of religious texts which would have been used for different purposes. In each case, Ogden suggests that scribal reworking indicates clear differences in the way the Vie was read by each scribe, readings that seem to be corroborated by the manuscript contexts in which each version of the poem appears.

Ogden pays a good deal of attention to the earliest and most economically ornamented of the manuscripts, Bodleian, Canonici Miscellaneous 74 (MS O): a collection that was probably intended for reading by individuals or small groups, possibly in a convent setting. Ogden persuasively interprets the codicological evidence to suggest that the collection is composed of three, independently produced, sections which, as Meyer and others have indicated, were all copied in the thirteenth century.[[1]] The middle section containing the Vie de sainte Eufrosine and the life of Mary of Egypt was probably added to the first section at a later date, the final section being added when the codex was expanded and rebound in its current form. Ogden argues that the rebinding of the codex shifts the values it promotes towards a more positive endorsement of the cenobitic life, in which the virtues of solitude as a means of expiating sin are conjoined with the advocation of contemplation and charity in a conventual context. This argument interestingly develops her conclusions concerning the manuscript evidence and provides an original perspective on the possible uses of the codex.

Whereas MS O was probably compiled by an ecclesiastic for intimate reading by an audience with ties to the secular world, the other collections Ogden examines were probably intended for public, ceremonial use by audiences interested in, but not necessarily committed to, an ascetic life. Ogden's examination of the iconography of these later manuscripts suggests that B encourages the reader to ponder the subject-matter of the text, whereas H and A present more illustrative illuminations that would be in line with their functions as, respectively, an ornate status symbol and a schoolbook for the teaching of rhetoric and religious history.[[2]] The later collections, Ogden argues, diminish Euphrosine's individuality and active role in the narrative in order to focus greater attention on the Church; they also foreground the saint's relationship to the Church rather than her relationship to her family. Ogden's analysis of the changes made to the text of the Vie as it appears in these manuscripts thus suggests that these later manuscripts reflect both different forms of spirituality and (perhaps more significantly) different forms of reading to those represented by the O manuscript.

Chapter Two is a more conventional literary analysis of spiritual desire in the Vie that focuses on comparison between the saint's life and the work of Bernard of Clairvaux. Ogden argues that Bernard of Clairvaux's Sermones super Cantica Canticorum provide an appropriate gauge by which to measure the poem's adherence to ecclesiastical values in respect of matters of desire, since the Sermones present a number of features that resonate strongly with the Vie. Desire in both texts is never fulfilled in a physical object, a fact that implies an awareness of the limits of language and the physical world as well as foregrounding the relationship to the divine in which fulfillment is ultimately located (on the part of both author and audience). Ogden also examines the way in which the work of both Bernard and the Eufrosine poet presents other similarities, such as the casting of the relations between the soul and God in terms of fin'amors; the choice of gender as a sign of the soul's separation from God; and the use of gender paradoxes to express the ineffable union of the soul and God. In analyzing these latter similarities, Ogden argues for a reading of Eufrosine's transvestitism (and her ambiguous social status more generally) that makes it a metaphor for the saint's "spiritual androgyny." Eufrosine's androgyny is nonetheless in conflict with the gendered categories that define her identity in the world, resulting in linguistic confusion at various points in the poem, as Eufrosine variously downplays or reclaims her femininity, is presented as increasingly male by the poet himself, and ultimately attains the ambiguous title of la virgene.

Chapter Three pursues the theme of desire in its more earthly contexts. Although, in the case of both Bernard's Sermones and the Vie, death exposes the impermanence of earthly love (a trait that, Ogden argues, distinguishes their representation of love from secular literature), both consider human relationships to share qualities in common with the soul's loving relationship to God. Ogden goes on to examine how human relationships in both texts constitute a potential source of virtue, comparing Bernard's depiction of his relationship to his brother Gerard to the Eufrosine poet's representation of the spouse's desire for Eufrosine. Although the depiction of the young man's love for Eufrosine is more positive and more sympathetic to the human condition than Bernard's mournful representation of fraternal love, both ultimately demonstrate the limits of earthly affection. These representations, Ogden argues, should be seen less in terms of the opposition of earthly and spiritual values and more in terms of a continuum demarcated by these values. Seen from this point of view, human relations, though faulty, can echo and thus communicate divine love.

Chapter Four provides a more thorough reading of the Vie as an example of hagiographic romance. In this section of the book, Ogden argues that the Eufrosine poet's appropriation of romance techniques extends beyond his use of romance narrative structure, to an investigation of the nature of the individual and his or her relation to society. Comparing the Vie to Chrétien de Troyes' Yvain, Ogden argues for a similarity in the way each represents tensions between private and social roles: tensions that eventually precipitate a crisis in the narrative. In Yvain's case, this tension is between his roles as knight and spouse, whereas, for Eufrosine, the tension arises between her roles as virgin and as wife or daughter. The crisis that this conflict engenders is, in both cases, the result of a single-minded pursuit of a chivalric or saintly career that causes pain to a loved one. In each of the poems, Ogden suggests, the protagonist's experience of desire on the one hand and compassion on the other indicates two, very different facets to their identity. Isolation is characteristic of the desiring protagonist's situation; the protagonist's experience as a desiring subject thus reveals an apparently antisocial aspect of private identity. By contrast, the protagonist's compassionate demonstrations of charity suggest a selfless dimension to his or her social persona that implies contact with the community. Bonds of friendship are especially important in the latter case, as they enable characters to unite with others without necessarily diminishing the importance of their individual desires. Such a "paradox of communal individuality" allows for the compatibility of desire and social obligations, even though the complementarity of these things is more of an issue for romance than it is for hagiography. Ogden thus explores some of the ways in which the Eufrosine poet's appropriation of romance structure and concerns might demonstrate how ecclesiastical writing can digest elements of secular texts without necessarily subverting them.

In the Fifth Chapter of the book, Ogden pursues this investigation of hagiographic romance in connection with what she terms "economies of friendship and desire." While the actions of the protagonists as friends may offer the possibility of reconciling private and social identity, friendship does not replace these (often conflicting) identities and therefore fails to resolve the problems present at the end of each narrative, where there is an insistence on the distress of central characters such as Laudine (Yvain's wife) or Panuze (Eufrosine's father). This sense of narrative incompleteness is, argues Ogden, one of the means by which Chrétien and the Eufrosine poet encourage their audiences to participate in the text's conclusion. Yet this participation is also encouraged by the exploitation of those motifs that pertain to the narrative problem in the first place: most notably, the economic systems that underpin friendship itself. Both authors, Ogden claims, suggest a belief in the necessity of an exchange of services in friendship while simultaneously entertaining the possibility of a rift between such services and the affection that should inspire them. This representation of exchange invites, in each case, a questioning of the literal sense of feudal and financial vocabulary. Finally, examining the prologues and epilogues to each poem, Ogden argues that both texts underline a gap in the narrative that the audience is invited to fulfill through interpretation. The main difference between hagiography and romance in this respect is that, in the case of the saint's life, truth is located outside the text, whereas, in romance, it is contained within it.

Ogden's work constitutes a valuable contribution to a growing secondary literature on hagiography that examines its literary qualities more closely than has sometimes previously been the case. It also usefully draws attention to a much neglected poem that, as Ogden demonstrates, is certainly worthy of greater critical attention. The book's careful and persuasive analysis of the manuscript evidence is one of its strengths and provides a way into thinking about the poem in context that will be of interest not only to scholars working within medieval French studies but also to those engaged in manuscript research.

If I have any reservations about the book, they concern the use of primary and secondary material in the framing of its central argument. Ogden's exploration of the ecclesiastical and secular contexts for the poem is a useful and often enriching way of approaching the text. I should have liked her, however, to extend her discussion of desire beyond the writing of Bernard of Clairvaux to incorporate other texts. Although Ogden acknowledges the similarities between secular and non-secular articulations of love in literature of this period, her discussion is exclusively confined to the latter. Some comparison with other saints' lives as well as with secular literature might have given a more rounded picture of the way the poem represents desire within its contemporary literary and cultural settings without detracting from Ogden's points about the orthodoxy of the poem's depiction of spiritual love.

Finally, given that much of the book concentrates on the themes of love and desire, Ogden's study might usefully have engaged more fully with some of the secondary literature currently available on these themes in Old French hagiography. Brigitte Cazelles' arguments concerning the parallels and differences between romance and hagiography in matters of love and desire are not mentioned in the study.[[3]] Simon Gaunt, Sarah Kay and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne all feature in the bibliography and notes of the book, yet Ogden apparently hesitates to engage explicitly with their arguments on love and desire in the actual analyses of the poem. For example, in discussing the conflict between what Ogden describes as the saint's androgyny and the social identities by which Eufrosine is defined, she invokes Gaunt's work on the troubling of gendered linguistic categories when Eufrosine enters the monastery, yet ignores the argument concerning queer desire of which Gaunt's exposition forms a part. Although Ogden would not necessarily have chosen to use the same critical frameworks as these scholars, some discussion of the terms of debate set by their work would have greatly enriched certain parts of this book. As it is, the critical distinctiveness of Ogden's view of love and desire is often inferred rather than explicit.

Despite these reservations, this nonetheless remains an important study that makes a timely and valuable contribution to medieval French studies. Ogden's book is an interesting and thorough analysis of a complex poem, an analysis that will doubtless enrich as well as provoke future readings of the Vie de sainte Eufrosine.


[[1]] P. Meyer, Documents manuscrits de l'ancienne littérature de la France conservés dans les bibliothèques de la Grande Bretagne: Rapports à M. le Ministre de l'Instruction Publique (Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 1871), p. 145; W. Cloetta, ed., "Poème Moral: Altfranzösisches Gedicht aus den ersten Jahren des XIII. Jahrhunderts nach allen bekannten Handschriften zum ersten Male vollständig," Romanische Forschungen: Organ für romanische Sprachen und Mittellatein, 3 (1887, repr. 1967), 1-268, pp. 12 and 26. For a summary of their positions see "La Vie de Sainte Euphrosine," ed. by Raymond T. Hill, Romanic Review, 10 (1919), 159-69 and 191-232, p. 160 and n. 10.

[[2]] The full references for these manuscripts are as follows: Bibliothèque Royale (Brussels), MSS 9225 and 9229-30 (MS B); Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris), fr. 183 and Koninklijke Bibliotheek (The Hague), MS 71 A 24 (MS H); Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal (Paris), MS 5204 (MS A).

[[3]] B. Cazelles, The Lady as Saint: A Collection of French Hagiographic Romances of the Thirteenth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991).