Theses Doctoral

Allegories of Selfhood in Medieval Devotional Literature

Badea, Gabriela

This dissertation is a study of spatial allegorical representations of inwardness in late medieval devotional texts of the fourteenth and fifteenth century, with a focus on the topos of the garden of the contemplation of the Passion as a landscape of the heart. These representations of the self do not follow the temporal logic of autobiography but are instead organized around matrix spaces: architectures or gardens of inwardness. Named by Beaujour in opposition to life-narratives, these miroirs d’encre or literary self-portraits rely on topoï to express the most intimate contours of the individual.
The first part of this dissertation considers how identity is negotiated with respect to the devotional norm in two private devotional exercises penned by cultured aristocrats. The abject vision of the penitential self in Henry of Lancaster’s Livre des Seyntz Medicines is rooted in the requirement to describe a deep self ontologically opaque to consciousness, while in René d’Anjou’s Mortifiement de Vaine Plaisance, the sinfulness lodged in the heart is considered through the lens of an anthropology focused on affect.
Because of their intertextual nature, locative tropes of interiority constitute an arena in which the individual constitutes himself in relation to foundational texts. Topical representations of the self borrow their form from the setting of a particular text or reference an entire textual tradition, inviting the question of the role of reading practices in self formation. The second part of this dissertation focuses on reading as a spiritual exercise, considering how the literary setting of the Roman de la Rose came to be associated to a devotional representation of the self in the late Middle Ages. In response to the debates on language and allegoresis unfurling in the Quarrel of the Rose, Pierre d’Ailly transforms its garden into an inner Jardin Amoureux de l’Ame Devote, subjecting the infamous secular text to a reading inspired by devotional meditative reading practices. Later on, Jehan Henri mobilizes the topography of the Rose to describe the collective identity of reformed nuns in a series of texts promoting the agenda of monastic reformation ( Le Livre de réformation utile et profitable pour toutes religieuses, Livre de la vie active and the Jardin de Contemplation). Finally, Molinet’s Roman de la Rose Moralisé proposes a spiritual reading of the Rose that testifies to a paradigm shift in the status of secular literature under the influence of devotional reading modes, and which, like Pierre d’Ailly, assimilates the setting of the Rose to an inner garden of the contemplation of the Passion. No longer an innocuous pastime, literature comes to carry high societal stakes because of being invested with a definite role in self-fashioning. The race for controlling the meaning of foundational texts leads to the proliferation of late medieval literary quarrels.
An edition of Jehan Henri’s Jardin de Contemplation is provided in the appendix.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
French and Romance Philology
Thesis Advisors
Lefèvre, Sylvie
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 21, 2018