Synopses & Reviews
This book about poor men and women in thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century Paris reveals the other side of the age of cathedrals in the very place where gothic architecture and scholastic theology were born. In Surviving Poverty in Medieval Paris, Sharon Farmer extends and deepens the understanding of urban poverty in the High Middle Ages. She explores the ways in which cultural elites thought about the poor, and shows that their conceptions of poor men and women derived from the roles assigned to men and women in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis--men are associated with productive labor, or labor within the public realm, and women with reproductive labor, or labor within the private realm.Farmer proceeds to complicate this picture, showing that elite society's attitude toward an individual's social role and moral capacity depended not only on gender but also on the person's social status. Such perceptions in turn influenced the kinds of care extended or denied to the poor by charitable organizations and the informal self-help networks that arose among the poor themselves. Of particular interest are Farmer's discussions of society's responses to men and women who were disabled to the point of being incapable of any work at all.
"The establishment of large cities and of the celibacy of priests exerted interesting effects on social hierarchy. Opportunity, charity, and judgement of individuals by gender, physical or intellectual capacity, and resources were profoundly influenced by these and other medieval sociopolitical forces, rendering a far more complex patchwork of classes than has heretofore been imagined. Farmer's remarkably insightful examination of the Miracles of St. Louis and other neglected sources has greatly advanced understanding not only of the 'painful side of the Age of Cathedrals' but of persistent short-comings of human nature. What she has discovered in the daily lives of Parisian poor and a continuum of more privileged neighbors can be applied to a better understanding of the ideological blusterings that have so unproductively colored our dealings with class, gender, sexuality, occupation, disability, religion, politics, and economics throughout recorded human history. From tiny fragments of forgotten lives Farmer has derived a disturbing, stimulating, convincing account, one that has great and widely pertinent importance." Reviewed by Keith Eubank, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)