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Mary Magdalene as counter-heroine: late Middle English hagiography and social order

Jones, Rachel 2014. Mary Magdalene as counter-heroine: late Middle English hagiography and social order. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This thesis, which examines episodes from Middle English Magdalene hagiography, argues that Magdalene is represented there as a counter-heroine. It concentrates on the vita in Mirk’s Festial (ca. 1380s); the 1438 Gilte Legende; and Bokenham’s Legendys of Hooly Wummen (completed by 1447). The study contends that Magdalene challenges a variety of hegemonic and patriarchal structures, though her unruliness is typically suppressed by the hagiographers. Chapter one provides context and outlines key terms which run throughout the thesis:subversion, containment and consolidation. The first part foregrounds the thesis’s argument and methodology; the second part introduces the Mary Magdalene cultural narrative; the third situates the thesis in terms of work in related fields. The second chapter interrogates the earliest chronological unit in Magdalene’s medieval biography: the account of her sin and repentance. It argues that Magdalene’s penance represents a moment of containment in the legend. The chapter suggests that the texts, when read as a group, depict Magdalene as choosing to surrender her social, sexual and economic freedoms. At a moment marked by anxieties about changing social roles, the hagiographies endorse a conservative model of social order. Chapter three examines the episodes depicting the Resurrection and Magdalene’s preaching activities in Marseilles. This chapter argues that although Peter’s spiritual authority is emphasized in the post-Resurrection narrative, the subversive potential found in earlier representations of Magdalene’s first witness is never fully erased. It argues, further, that representations of Magdalene preaching allow for readings which align the texts with more heterodox discourses about, for instance, women priests. Chapter four focuses on the scenes describing Magdalene’s years in the wilderness and nightly visitations to a wealthy prince and princess. Whereas chapters two and three argue that the protagonist challenges hegemonic structures in the fields of sexual politics and theology, this chapter argues that the avaricious prince scene presents Magdalene in her littleknown role as a figure of social criticism. The conclusion reiterates the central argument: that medieval hagiography represents Magdalene as an unruly female figure, but that her counter-heroism is frequently contained by structures of her narrative.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Funders: AHRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2016 23:36

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