- Framing the Family: Narrative and Representation in the Medieval and Early Modern Periods
In her essay in this volume, coeditor Diane Wolfthal observes that, "collective memory does not consist of a single, seamless master narrative" (271). Neither does the study of the family, as this diverse collection of essays amply demonstrates. The volume is a product of a 2002 symposium whose mission was to embrace interdisciplinarity and cultural studies as means to expand the existing historical discourse on the medieval and early modern family. The authors are historians, art historians, literature and language specialists, and range from well-established scholars to new faces. These essays both challenge our assumptions about the medieval-early modern family and provide intimate glimpses of the functioning of relationships between husbands and wives and parents and children.
The collection first tackles family space through visual and rhetorical constructions of home. In their treatments of Holbein's sketch of Thomas More's family and Thomas Heywood's play A Woman Killed with Kindness, Felicity Riddy and Carol Mejia-LaPerle demonstrate the varieties of negotiated authority wives and daughters possessed through speech and mere presence. The authors of essays in the second section highlight a range of medieval sexuality from marital celibacy to marital sodomy — indeed, "The Marital Bed" of this section's title was contested space, occupied not only by individuals, but families and ideologies. Robert Sturges defines the unidentified central crime of The Gast of Gy as conjugal sodomy, an issue linked to contemporary concerns about heresy. If the church viewed conjugal sodomy as a crime, conjugal celibacy created tensions between church and family, as coeditor Rosalynn Voaden demonstrates with the hagiography of the celibate power couple Delphine of Puimichel and Elzear of Sabran. Finally, as Sharon Farmer relates, the bed becomes the unlikely site of moral education by wife of husband in an exemplum on the leper in the bedroom composed by Jacques de Vitry in a sermon for male and female hospital workers. [End Page 570]
Farmer's essay acts as a bridge to the next section that addresses the intersection of family and women's work. Micheline White and Frima Fox Hofrichter expand the field of women's work, with the former making a case for husband-wife collaboration and cooperation in women's writing, and the latter looking in detail at how the actual practices of motherhood may have influenced the careers of female artists. In the fourth section on parenting, Karen Bollerman builds on Hofrichter's discussion of motherhood, demonstrating the relationship between birth, mothering, and the maternal God in the poem "Patience." Pamela Sheingorn and Juliann Vitullo treat the creation of ideal fatherhood through the construction of Joseph and the prescriptive texts on family prevalent in fifteenth-century Florence, respectively. Finally, Eva Frojmovic and Diane Wolfthal use memory as the frame for their examination of visual and textual treatments of the Jewish rituals of circumcision and marriage. The volume concludes where it began, in England, with M. Bryan Curd's essay on English funerary monuments that challenges the totality of patriarchy.
The essays are well-balanced in terms of accessibility and length, with the exception of Vitullo's interesting but slightly shorter essay on Alberti's Florence, which might have considered how the writers' messages for fathers departed from or functioned with their instructions to mothers, or how it dovetailed with family theory from other republics or states. Despite the lack of color images, the plates are accessible, the text highly readable and footnotes detailed, although Wolfthal's very useful list of Italian Renaissance Jewish wedding ritual images might have been better placed in an appendix to avoid disrupting her narrative.
Collectively, this volume enriches not only the study of the family, but also enhances scholarship on women and women's work, medieval spirituality, and studies of masculinity, ritual, and sexuality. Not only do these works provide...