Gender and Marriage in Medieval English Lit

In live blogging this conference, I am following the conventions for conference blogging.

Gender and the Dynamics of Marriage in Medieval English Literature
Sponsor: Oregon Medieval English Literature Society (OMELS)
Organizer: Danna Voth, Univ. of Oregon, and Debbie M. Killingsworth, Univ. of
Oregon Presider: Stephen Patrick McCormick, Univ. of Oregon

Margery Kempe’s Revision of the Symbolic Capital of Social and Religious Marriage
Christine-Anne Putnam, Univ. of Colorado

Medieval Women Reading Women: The Heroine and Her Marriage in the Middle English Story of Asneth
Hannah Zdansky, Univ. of Notre Dame

Companionate Marriage and Clerical Mediation as a Means to Salvation in Passus IX and X
Debbie M. Killingsworth
On shuttle, which is late.

Citizen Medea: Marriage as Nation-Building in John Lydgate’s Troy Book
Katarzyna Maria Rutkowski, Univ. of California–Los Angeles

Margery Kempe’s Revision of the Symbolic Capital of Social and Religious Marriage
Christine-Anne Putnam, Univ. of Colorado

PhD student

Talking about Margery Kempe, referring to her queering of the symbolic capital.
In her text, in a tense locale. Affords compelling argument of lay folks to become both central and marginal.
The situation should force her to marginality; however, she moves between the center and the margin. She thus becomes a disruption.

Field disruption… looking at the queer… that which is disrupting and that which is central and marginal.

1. MK’s situation in her field of production entails that she must appropriate and spend symbolic capital (marriage).
2. Her appropriation is queer. (Bodily representations of virginity)

Queer definition: Lofton “names more than erotic interest, more than a sexual orientation–disavowed but necessary”
Deviant that is intrinsically central to the system it supports.

Calls her Margery all the time. Thought this was disrespectful. Why is this appropriate?

Secular marriage is always seen as secondary and inferior.
MK’s idea is wrapped up in her body and her sexual relations.

Her acceptance and enjoyment of sexual relations pit MK against the boundaries that the church attempts to support.
Symbolic capital of marriage…
approval v. disapproval
MK’s moving among the centrality and marginality.
Needed to appropriate virginity.

Hierarchy =
1. virginity
2. chaste widow
3. chaste wife

Physical virginity was not enough. Spiritual chastity was required by the church as well.
Virginity shifted to a moral and spiritual aspect of life.
As a married woman, with twelve children, she would not be intact bodily.
However, option of inclusion seems possible here. Spiritual virgin was not enough. Wanted to be a bodily virgin as well.
Physical intactness placed positive capital on female body.
Consecrated women were deemed sacrosanct. Regarded, recruited, and cannonized as virgins.
Lay women were not kept isolated.

MK needs to be connected with the chaste saints.
She has option to live within a chaste marriage. (Such as in St Cecilia)
Key is that the divine plays an integral part in Cecilia’s divine virginity–the angel that will strike him dead if he takes her virginity.

The force that seals MK’s vow of chastity is her purse.
“Grant me that you will not come in my bed… I will quit you of your debts…”
Exchange of money for her chasteness.
Individual woman has ability to purchase her body if she wishes.
She has purchased her body from her husband and symbolically acquired social capital.

White clothes is a symbol of sexual and religious status.
MK wearing white symbols a disjunction between her desire and her place in society.
Her appropriation of the white clothing is a problem.

Jesus tells her to wear white. But she says she will be slandered and people will call her a hypocrite.
Significant difference between virgins and chaste wives.
Her clothes directly challenged the priesthood.

Her contemporaries contest her clothing.
She has not been approved and known by the bishop.
He does, however, give in to the request.
Her use of the symbolic capital is questioned by the mayor: “You have come to take our wives away.”

Her appropriation of her white clothes point to a disjunction between sacrament of marriage and the divine perfection of virginity.

MK is asked if she is a maiden? She says no.
Her ability to enter into the group of consecrated virgins and to be a wife and mother, she is regarded as exterior to the group but still allowed and recognized for her white clothes and her place within the group.

Mode of analysis allows us to see and understand the queer, those included and then excluded, within the medieval world.

Medieval Women Reading Women: The Heroine and Her Marriage in the Middle English Story of Asneth
Hannah Zdansky, Univ. of Notre Dame

works in Middle English

Asneth was translated in 15th C.
May be a countess.
Only surviving mss dates 1450-1460. Two sisters are owners.
This manuscript may have been a gift.

The mss has two hands in script.
Has multiple women’s names in the margins.

ME Asneth part of the increase in texts paid for by women for women.

Asneth fell in love with Joseph. Converted to Judaism. Married Joseph.

10th C version translated into Middle English probably in Canterbury. (Much older text.)
“all the appeal of the saints’ lives”

Stands between religious and secular literature.
The milieu of Asneth same as French and German.
Story ends with an attempted abduction.
Romantic approach of Asneth could be an exemplum in two ways:
1. like saints’ lives (and women visionaries)
2. like Old Testament heroic women

placed in comparison to ME Susanna (from the apocryphal Old Testament)

Such works were in demand during 15th and 16th century.

Unlike other women visionaries, Asneth does not reject her physical union with Joseph.
Divine acceptance shows how human love and spiritual experience are intertwined.

First encounter Asneth in l. 47-51.
More than having remained chaste, she refuses unions, honoring her other gods.
Rejects union with Joseph, until she sees him.

Joseph is introduced in l. 194-200
Soon after we see him that he attracted “all fair females of Egypt” (l. 222-228).
He must follow Hebrew dietary law and doesn’t want to meet Asneth.
But when she found that she loved no man fleshly (l. 242), he changes his mind.

Asneth is introduced as strong and pious even before her conversion.
Because of this, she is rewarded with a strong, socially upward marriage.

Discussed how this is relevant as an exemplum for young women. If you are chaste and follow God, then you will be rewarded with a physical marriage which is both desirable (physically and socially) and approved by God.

Genesis 1:27 “God created.. male and female”

Adam was fulfilled by the creation of Eve.
Asneth’s story teaches this.
When Joseph comes to see Asneth after her conversion and his vision from God, he kissed her. She moves to wash his feet. “I will wash them, you are my dear lord” (v. 627).
“Thy feet are my own feet, your hands also mine as well/ And your soul is my soul” (l. 630-31).
The union of Asneth and Joseph is Edenic in quality.
Their union is one with God at the center, just as Adam and Eve’s.
The bond produced from such a relationship is strong and blessed.

The story notes that Asneth is congruent to Joseph, matching him in her following of God. (l. 659-61).

For an audience responding to Asneth, positive reaction.
Shows how a strong, intelligent woman could conduct herself.
They do not remain physically separate (“Joseph knew his wife and she conceived” l. 682).
There is suggestion that they engage in a chaste marriage, after they have “multiplied” as required by God. So procreation is a commitment, rather than a pleasure.
For both religious and practical women, a chaste union represented the opportunity to get both secular and religious capital.
Physically it would have been good for the women to not be continually pregnant.

Text is entertaining and religiously instructive.
Reminds of Proverbs 31 (virtuous woman) “woman to be praised.”

Represent the image of God in their union.
Human beings may strive to attain perfection in their present life as well.
Asneth and Joseph, in a chaste marriage, would be important as examples of hope for 15th C women. Supports both the social order and expectation of marriage.

Companionate Marriage and Clerical Mediation as a Means to Salvation in Passus IX and X
Debbie M. Killingsworth

pursuing her doctorate, queer theory and medieval theory

Langland represents both marriage and clerical desire.
Clergy and scripture marriage is infelicitous. Recalls the problem with authority and desire.
Comments on the culture’s concerns about the interactions of the clergy with the laity.
Marriage = mutual agreement of man and woman who live and work together
Relationship in the B Text is troubled (of clergy and scripture).

“to do well in this world is to live truly as is taught by the law”
The cannonade insists on mutual consent.
Asserts that the motivation for marrying should be love, not money or property.

Eve as helpmate is alluded to by his discussion of the wife.

“to work and win and the world sustain”

These conditions of mutual consent and love delineate a companionic marriage.
Stressed of word “folk” (unharmonious word, doesn’t fit nicely in the alliterative line) necessarily includes women, but differentiates between class and social power.
Man and woman together must toil and win the grace of God.
Shifts power to biblically up-to-God.
Reinforces scriptural authority in companionic marriage.

Interactions between scripture and clergy shows they are not in companionic marriage.
They do not speak to each other.
Langland separates them in different lines in the poem.

While we might worship them both, we meet clergy as the husband and then (after another wife) scripture is introduced.
Scripture speaks 97 lines later, indicating she is still in the room.
This large space (in the couple and in the speaking) indicates a lack of companionic marriage.

Union of scripture and clergy should cause problems with audience.
Scripture is the wife.
Wife should be under the authority of the clergy.
This is a problem with the presentation.

Clergy never speaks to Scripture. Doesn’t even refer to her, except as the text (memorization). No sense of intimacy.
Clergy doesn’t have companionic marriage.
Clergy has a different option.
Clergy can have paradise in a cloister or a school. Makes clear a desire for isolation rather than connection (marriage or even social community).
Clergy means secular clergy in the poem, that is those who live among the people. Yet Clergy’s idea of happiness is set in the books of the university and the cloister.
Clergy realizes that his definition of paradise implies that he cannot be in a strong marriage. So he says he is seeking more intimacy with books. But he is not loving Scripture and, therefore, not able to understand her.
Scripture answers Will’s question about Clergy’s sermon.
When Scripture says that she “knows not scorne” it relates to church’s admonition for women to be even deceptive in their correction of their husbands.

Scripture says she will not scorn them, but she does. She critiques both Will’s understanding and Clergy’s sermon. She is the written word of God. Her tone is shrewish. Her scorn of him indicates she feels little desire to be misread.

Lines of communication are disjointed between Clergy and Scripture.
Some of clergy was arguing against giving the Bible to the general populace.
By withholding Scripture from populace, the clergy turned it into an object, but saying they couldn’t understand it made it less important than the clergy–who were needed to translate it.

Langland reveals a further complication when he compares the application of Scripture in the story and the women who are wives within the book.
Wit’s body language reveals to Will how to gain Study’s favor.

Will understands he is to mimic Wit’s body language and attitude in order to get Study to help him.
Wit is respectful of Study. Will is not.

Scripture is meant to be the divine other.

Will’s apathy angers Scripture so that she castigates him in Latin without a translation.
“Many men know many things and don’t know themselves.” (what castigation says)
He loses communication here. She speaks to him, but cannot be understood.

For goals of Christianity to be met, clergy must be married to Scripture.
Scripture’s experience within companionic marriage is strong. But Clergy isolates her and does not understand her.

Reform, as Langland proposes it, requires inscribing Scripture with divine interpretation.
Companionic marriage mimics the union of humans as followers of God.
Scripture must retain her authority as the word of God, but her femininity shows that her authority has been mitigated. A situation that pollutes the meaning of the text.

Citizen Medea: Marriage as Nation-Building in John Lydgate’s Troy Book
Katarzyna Maria Rutkowski, Univ. of California–Los Angeles

How Gilbert Becket met and married a Saracen princess while on the Crusades. The marriage led to St. Thomas a Becket.

Becket’s cosmopolitan marriage makes foreign familiar.

Troy Book (1412-1420) shows foreign marriage as important to imperial development. Uses the failure to make the wife a citizen as an explanation for why the situation was not going to end well.

Henry was established in Lydgate’s epic (other work he was working on) as the king of France.
Lydgate responds to his patron’s needs by promoting companionic marriage. In short, he encourages Henry to “make love, not war.”
Focuses on Jason’s trip to the development of his relationship with Medea.

The romance between Jason and Medea reproduces the war’s causes in the microcosm of their marriage.
Henry was courting the French king’s daughter, Catherine.
14 June 1420– Henry agreed to marry Catherine without a dowry and consenting to give up French claim while remaining regent.
Lydgate hopes Catherine will bring “peace and quiet with the full ceasing of illness and pestilence.” This international marriage is essential for the imperial England. Hopes that Henry will reject the idea of Catherine as an example of his conquest and instead develop his relationship with Catherine as companionic marriage.

highlights Jason’s defects as a leader (power and pride)
contrasts them with Medea’s love
women as commodities “homologous to the trade of goods” encodes an asymmetry of marriage
Jason’s rejection of the marriage shows his defects because he 1. broke his marriage vow and 2. thereby his oaths to his own people.

engagement = betrothal
marriage = betrothal followed by consummation

Companionate marriage rose in stature.
Economic system created social capital that was significant through the companionate marriage.
Howell (Powell?) appropriated the language of love and desire and readily attached it to the language of friendship and social interaction.

Medea helps Jason win the golden fleece.
Medea does this because of her love and her experience as a companion in the marriage.

All the failing rulers in this story mess up their transnational social contracts (including companionate marriage).
Medea is the royal daughter who switches her alliance from her father to Jason because of her love. In this Lydgate supports Medea as a means of saving two nations. Casts her in his alternate ideal of companionate marriage and rule.

Henry was really into knighthood.
Lydgate stages it, but breaks it with the romance of Jason and Medea.
Shows Medea as a positive example of the pure motives needed in a companionate marriage. She desires his physical health and his life.

Martial law (law of Mars) shows that the hero is going to die. Medea tries to convince Jason to forego his main mission. He says he would rather die than live when his name is slain.
Lydgate says “For you I will set aside my birth of royal stock… My honor shall be cast aside.” Medea is aware of her choice and for love she renounces her claim to sovereignty. She decides to give new life to someone who has already disregarded her gift.

Lydgate casts Medea with an honorable presence. She was an innocent maid and wholly obeyed Jason’s desire and his lusts. Lydgate says Jason deceives Medea, with his false declarations of love. Her passivity evokes her sovereignty–ruling by a bond with those who are ruled.

Medea tries to get Jason to worship Venus (through their sexual experience). Contrasts with those who seek vain glory. Reveals herself to be an exemplum within this work. Proper sovereign.

Lydgate emphasizes Medea’s vengeance and problems, when she kills her own sons by Jason.

Later (in another book) Lydgate re-unites Medea and Jason, where they join together and set Medea’s father back on his throne.

Lydgate stresses that a positive king must abate the great cruelty that already exists in the war (between Troy and Greece OR France and England). The general public will gain peace and strong life. Lydgate creates a conjugal kingdom, reflected in a companionate marriage.

Great papers.
Interested in the way you teased out the relationship between the Clergy and the Scripture. How did you determine the genders?

Latin talks of Scripture as women and clergy as men. Also Langland refers to them as “he and she.”

Lot more idea of companionate marriage. Interesting to me within larger historical area seems later. Are larger histories of marriage being opened up? Or are we still looking at medieval as bad (and not love)?

Martha Howell recuperating the idea of companionate marriage. Against the asymmetrical marriage discussion.

Do you see this outside medieval into larger?

Howell does it from 12th C to 18th C. Not disjunctive but working together.

Idea that marriage in Anseth ends up chaste. Couple of problems with that. One side exemplary (agree with that) which creates a slight problem with the chaste marriage. The other side it seems that is a text of noble ideas of marriage. So how does this create a problem with chaste marriage?

Defense: no way to prove that. Only has two children.
As soon as they get married, he knows his life. Here’s the procreation. Relationship continues, but has the tenor of religious devotion. Seems to suggest that chaste marriage is a possibility.

Both people are noble. But text highlights their religious devotion and piety. She protests until she sees him (very romantic), but his piety mirrors hers (even though she has not converted to Judaism).

Margery Kempe bartering away her body without any input from God. Doesn’t, at the point where the husband is trying to renegotiate, God tells her she can eat with him in response for her chastity in their marriage. Is this really a bartering without God?

Trading her body for meat, literally.
Not want to suggest that there is no place of God in the situation/transaction.
But what happens in this place, there is no angel that’s going to interfere. No direct hand of God that is going to enforce her chastity.
Enters chaste marriage with husband, but then she has another child. Then God tells her to stop having children.
She is talking and conversing with God, but his hand is not separating them.
For Margery, highlighting the debt portion, economic debt and contractual debt (within marriage). She is now going to eat meat, but God is not isolating her himself. It is up to her to create her own chastity.

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