Russell, David William
Reciprocal management of religious virgin mothers
University of Southampton, School of Humanities,
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This study concerns two women who were religiously active either side of the Great Schism (1378–1417), a period of intensification of the excesses of personal pride and political ambition that divided the western Church and caused distress to devoted, thoughtful laity and clerics alike. Devout laity sought new expressions of piety in these stressful times and through examining the written legacies of two non-enclosed religious women, Caterina Benincasa and Margery Kempe, I explore not only the contemplative/devotional practices that characterise them, but also the clerics upon whom they relied for protection, support and guidance in male-dominated, strife-ridden medieval Europe. The two women, a northern Italian lifelong virgin for Christ and an East Anglian mother of fourteen children, prima facie, appear to have little in common except claimed illiteracy, a diversity of influences and acknowledging Bridget of Sweden as a fundamental inspirational source. However, both of their personal and literary management teams included members of several religious orders and their written productions were mostly dictated to and edited by men. They both negotiated their ecclesiastical acceptance from the position of institutionally inferior women through the exclusively female rôles of mother/sister/daughter in exerting influence over their father/brother/son managers through confronting them with their male self-images. Although the management practices applied in each case were very different in terms of structure and hierarchical level, the women‘s negotiations with the men followed similar lines, albeit through different written media. Caterina‘s negotiating techniques are found in the immediate medium of her letters and they involve persuasion and instruction as she tries to create situations that she can control in furtherance of her objectives. The study includes a selection of twelve letters that I have translated in full and analysed from the perspective of the register of the dialogues, the style and the imagery contained therein. Evidence of Margery Kempe‘s influence over her managers, including her husband, comes solely from the medium of the retrospective narrative of her Book in which she chooses the events that illustrate how she reacts to and manipulates people and situations to her advantage. The clerical managers were responsible for keeping their head-strong charges compliant with ever-changing contemporary views of orthodoxy within parameters negotiated between the women and the institutional church. Although there are clear, identifiable parallels between the managers in their styles and techniques, there are also differences rooted in the managers‘ perceptions of the two women‘s respective contributions to the furtherance of institutional aims. Caterina‘s situation was that of a woman whose institutional support was considered necessary at the highest levels of the Church‘s management structure. In Margery Kempe‘s case the management seemed to use her to develop aspects of their local inter-institutional competition for status and alms in Lynn. Despite this difference in influential level there is the strong probability of personal contact and shared theological academic backgrounds among the clerics that draws the teams together. This study concentrates primarily on comparing and contrasting the subtleties of the negotiations between each woman and her managers, negotiations which are often influenced by the women‘s introduction of the transcendental force of God‘s will as revealed only to them, and secondarily on the possible connections between the managers that link England to Italy, Lynn to Siena and Margery to Caterina. The management techniques revealed are independent of any connections between the managers and there is little by way of common techniques apart from the complexities of reciprocal management and the women‘s exploitation of male conceptions of what is appropriate to themselves (the managers) and to women in the Church.
||University of Southampton, History
||13 Aug 2012 10:06
||17 Apr 2017 17:15
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