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“It Is Better to Die”

Abbé Rousseau and the Meanings of Suicide

Jeffrey Merrick

Abstract

As he explained in his suicide note, abbé Jean-Baptiste Rousseau could not marry and would not seduce the young woman he loved, so he shot himself on 18 May 1784. Witnesses deposed by the police claimed that he was not in his right mind and therefore not legally responsible for his actions, but the authors of contemporary reports about the case accepted his lucid account of his dilemma. Nouvellistes and journalists provided multiple versions of his note and multiple judgments of his motives, options, and actions. This analysis of the sources from 1784 and the following years shows how they reworked the story of Rousseau’s life and death against the background of larger issues. Changes in jurisprudence during the last decades of the ancien régime culminated in the decriminalization of suicide and other religious, moral, and sexual crimes in 1791. Debates about the causes and meanings of self-destruction continued, but in the press rather than the courts.

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Jules Vallès and Séverine

Romantic Socialism and the Afterlife of a Cross-Sex Friendship in French Political Culture, 1880–1929

Michael Mulvey

Abstract

French political culture had a postrevolutionary tradition that considered gendered Ciceronian or fraternal friendship crucial to maintaining ideological movements across time inside the nation. The brief cross-sex friendship between Jules Vallès (1832–1885) and Séverine (neé Caroline Rémy, 1855–1929) has served as a biographical footnote to an 1871 Communard and a Dreyfusard journalist. This article frames the Vallès-Séverine social relation as a fraternal friendship that ideally secured Vallès’s political posterity and strategically empowered Séverine to publish opinions as a woman. Vallès self-consciously transferred his legacy of barricade-driven, romantic socialism to Séverine. Séverine, in turn, attempted to invoke Vallès’s heritage in an effort to protect her published opinions as a woman without civic rights. The Vallès-Séverine friendship was a paradoxical social relation that revealed how two historical actors subverted gender norms and the limits of a cross-sex fraternal friendship inside a liberalizing French political culture.

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Bonnie White

Abstract

In the aftermath of World War I, public concerns about the “female surplus” promoted various efforts to stimulate women’s emigration to the dominions in order to relieve the presumed burden on the postwar economy. Opportunities for women in agriculture were part of the campaign to relocate women for work, but the plan soon encountered challenges from domestic groups that objected to the “dumping” of “surplus” females in the dominions and argued that, although farming in Britain experienced a decline in the 1920s, there were opportunities for women who wished to work in agriculture. This article examines the legacy of women agricultural workers in postwar Britain and argues that, although emigration efforts ultimately failed, the new farm woman of the 1920s and 1930s was presented as an educated professional, with evocations of traditional womanhood, making her an acceptable, nonconfrontational, progressive British woman worker by the outbreak of World War II.

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“And much more I am soryat for my good knyghts”

Fainting, Homosociality, and Elite Male Culture in Middle English Romance

Rachel E. Moss

Abstract

In Middle English romances, public and semi-public displays of emotion are used by elite men to strengthen and promote hegemonic masculinity. This article examines how male fainting, as an act witnessed and sometimes replicated by an audience of men, serves to reinforce homosocial bonds, and to highlight the heroic qualities that make these characters capable of such deep, public sorrow. Late medieval patriarchy is dependent upon the homosocial bonding of elite men, and as such lionizes not only friendship between individual men, but also their collective unity as a body bound by social, political, and emotional ties. Fainting, as a performative act, provides a physical representation of both this collective identity and of specific virtues associated with male nobility.

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The Corpus Christi Devotion

Gender, Liturgy, and Authority among Dominican Nuns in Castile in the Middle Ages

Mercedes Pérez Vidal

Abstract

Although well known in the case of Poor Clares or Cistercian nuns, the development of Corpus Christi devotion and liturgy in the Dominican nunneries has not been hitherto studied. This article analyzes these issues in the particular case of Dominican nuns in medieval Castile. The article discusses the role of these women in the development of devotional and liturgical performance, the artistic and architectonic consequences and peculiarities of the devotion of Corpus Christi, the changes in monastic spaces that resulted from it, and, finally, the use of Corpus Christi as a means of empowerment by some aristocratic nuns and foundresses.

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From Villainous Letch and Sinful Outcast, to “Especially Beloved of God”

Complicating the Medieval Leper through Gender and Social Status

Christina Welch and Rohan Brown

Abstract

This article explores the socio-religious construction of the medieval “ideal” leper; a male pedagogical symbol of social and moral status and a figure in a physical and spiritual state of liminality, where their physical decay was a sign of their moral corruption. It argues that within vernacular literature, and theology, the medieval male leper was typically perceived as an outcast experiencing social death before succumbing to the slow degeneration of the disease. Typically conceived, and represented as lusty and carnal, the “ideal” male leper wore his own sin as physical deformity as a result of the close theological interpretation of the body and the soul. However, once his spiritual and physical contagion was contained within a leprosaria (a leper hospital), he could be perceived as a semi-holy figure, living out his purgatorial punishment on earth. Living out his purgation and segregated from his former communities, the article contests that the once frightening and sinful medieval male leper could transform his social status, becoming “especially beloved by God.”

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Katherine Weikert and Elena Woodacre

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Inaudito exemplo

The Abduction of Romsey’s Abbess

Linda D. Brown

Abstract

The abduction in 1160 of Romsey’s abbess Marie, daughter of King Stephen and Queen Matilda of England, attracted considerable attention in England and Northern Europe. Medieval chroniclers theorized about those who had arranged the raptus, empha-sizing that they had targeted a holy bride of Christ. At the scandal’s crux was the altered status of the abbess who had unexpectedly become sole heir to her family’s lands, wealth, and titles. This transformation occurred for Marie when the last of her family died in the waning months of 1159. With astonishing speed, Marie transitioned from her role as a high-status abbess to one of heiress-countess. This article examines the evidence concerning the abduction’s backstory, the resulting marriage, and the aftermath of Marie’s nine years as a married countess. It presents Marie in light of her ability to adapt to and exploit the changing political, social, and cultural landscapes that she inhabited.

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Mirrors for Margraves

Peter Damian’s Models for Male and Female Rulers

Alison Creber

Abstract

In the 1060s Peter Damian wrote “mirrors for margraves” to the rulers of two different Italian marks: Godfrey, margrave of Tuscany, and Adelaide, de facto ruler of the mark of Turin. Although he wrote to them both on the subject of rule and justice, Damian offered Godfrey and Adelaide different models for rule. Godfrey was to mete out harsh punishments; Adelaide was to act with mercy and restraint. Godfrey was presented with images of paternal care, Adelaide with maternal imagery. Godfrey was encouraged to emulate historical figures; Adelaide was to emulate biblical heroines. Through comparing and contrasting the gendered way in which Damian constructs the image of the ideal margrave in each of these letters, this article demonstrates that Damian consciously used different models for Godfrey and Adelaide on the basis of their gender, rather than their status or behavior.

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Elizabeth S. Leet

Abstract

Each tale in the Lanval corpus revolves around fairy women who style their bodies specifically to attract the male gaze. Each fairy uses her body’s visual impact to seduce her lover and resolve the judicial accusations against him. By adapting her body for private audiences, public parades, and even non-noble onlookers, each fairy participates actively in the gaze both to gain her respective lover’s freedom and to win the man of her choosing. The Lanval tales reveal women who submit to be analyzed and objectified in order to satisfy their lover’s wish along with their own goals. Additionally, Sir Landevale and Sir Launfal expand descriptions of the ladies, mirroring the increase in the number of people who assess them at the Arthurian trial. By examining the increasing volume of attire and decreasing interaction with animals across the adaptations, we see these poets problematize the overlap between objectification and empowerment.