Synopses & Reviews
With this witty and elegant new book, one of our leading medievalists breaks new ground in fifteenth-century scholarship, a critical site of cultural study. Delany examines the work of English Augustinian friar Osbern Bokenham, a figure never before written on at any length, and fully explores the relations between history and literature in a particularly turbulent period in English history, a period extending from the "War of the Roses" through the "Hundred Years War." Delany focuses on Bokenham's major work, Legends of Holy Women--the first collection of all female saint's lives in any language--composed between 1443 and 1447. Organizing the book around the image of the body--a medieval procedure becoming popular once again in current attention to the social construction of the body--she looks at a number of major concerns. One is Bokenham's relation to the body of English literature, particularly Chaucer. Another is the entire genre of saints's lives, particularly female saints's lives, with their striking uses of the body of the saint to generate their meaning. Yet another is the image of the body politic and its importance in the political and dynastic crises of fifteenth century England. Delany draws these diverse strands together to create an innovative and readable portrait of Bokenham's work and its larger cultural and political importance, offering a host of new insights into this unjustly neglected period in English literary history.
"Original and provocative....An engaging and lively study that should appeal to all faculty and students...of medieval literature and culture."--Choice
"Impolitic Bodies, with its exquisite literary and historical contextualization, powerful analysis, andmagisterial scope, ranks as one of the best books ever published on a fifteenth-century author."--John M. Ganim, University of California, Riverside
"...Delany does a masterful job of drawing together a wealth of current criticism's most hotly discussed."--C. Marie Harker, Truman State University
"Absorbing, subtle, complex reading. Among the leading ranks of medieval feminist scholarship, [Impolitic Bodies] may help restore the 15th Century to its rightful place in English literary history."--John McLaughlin, E. Stroudsburg University
"Sheila Delany's book is as complex and ambitious as its title and subtitle suggest....it is a valuable work that adds to more than just the increasing interest in fifteenth-century studies."--Arthuriana
This pioneering book explores the work of English Augustinian friar Osbern Bokenham, an ardent Yorkist on the eve of the "Wars of the Roses" and a gifted poet. Sheila Delany focuses on a manuscript written in 1447, the "Legend of Holy Women." Narrating the lives and ordeals of thirteen heroic and powerful saints, this was the first all-female legendary in English, much of it commissioned by wealthy women patrons in the vicinity of Clare Priory, Suffolk, where Bokenham lived. Delany structures her book around the image of the human body. First is the corpus of textual traditions within which Bokenham wrote: above all, the work of his two competing masters, St. Augustine and Geoffrey Chaucer. Next comes the female body and its parts as represented in hagiography, with Bokenham's distinctive treatment of the body and the corporeal semiotic of his own legendary. Finally, the image of the body politic allows Delany to examine the relation of Bokenham's work to contemporary political life. She analyzes both the legendary and the friar's translation of a panegyric by the late-classical poet Claudian. The poetry is richly historized by Delany's reading of it in the context of succession crises, war, and the connection of women to political power during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
About the Author
is Professor of English at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. She is the author of such books as Chaucer's House of Fame: The Politics of Skeptical Fideism
, The Naked Text: Chaucer's Legend of Good Women
and Writing Woman, Medieval and Modern