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Flesh Made Word: Women's Speech in Medieval English Virgin Martyr Legends

McGuire, Brigit Clare

This study examines the relationship of women's bodies to their speech in English virgin martyr legends of the tenth to fifteenth centuries. It identifies and traces a long tradition connecting women's virginal bodies to powerful, fruitful speech that begins with late classical writers. This tradition gives rise to the eloquent virgin martyrs of Aelfric's Lives of Saints, the Katherine Group, and Chaucer's Second Nun's Tale, and is one the fifteenth century mystic and contemplative Margery Kempe draws upon to authorize her unconventional performance of sanctity in her Book. Far from portraying them as a source of sin or pollution, English virgin martyr legends portray women's bodies as enabling their speech by serving as a dwelling place for God's Word, providing access to his revelation, and becoming the text the virgin martyr interprets for her audience in a lesson in spiritual reading practices.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Dailey, Patricia A.
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 23, 2015
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