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  • Medieval Saints' Lives: The Gift, Kinship and Community in Old French Hagiography
  • Shanna Carlson
Emma Campbell. Medieval Saints' Lives: The Gift, Kinship and Community in Old French Hagiography. Cambridge, U.K.: D. S. Brewer, 2008. 274 pp.

Medieval conceptions of kinship have captured scholarly imagination since at least as early as Georges Duby's La Société aux XIe et XIIe siècles dans la région mâconnaise (1953). Emma Campbell's wide-ranging and erudite intervention, however, equally recalls a tradition running alongside works by R. Howard Bloch, Duby, and others. Queer theory—if a queer theory a bit avant la lettre—has also been interested in kinship and its disruptions at least since Guy Hoc-quenghem's Le Désir homosexuel (1972), a provocative inauguration culminating more recently in questions like Leo Bersani's "Should a homosexual be a good citizen?" or Judith Butler's "What has Oedipus engendered?" Campbell's text is the first to go so far in bringing queer theory, kinship studies, medieval scholarship, and a substantial corpus of Old French hagiography in contact. Campbell's text is thereby both an answer and a reminder: that Old French hagiography always already offers the potential for queer communities, in part via a connection with the past which, if "anachronistic, appropriative and insufficiently reverential," is nonetheless "also very much in keeping with the ethos of medieval vernacular hagiography itself" (Campbell 230); and that even the citizen in a "zone indifferent to human law" (94) may originate from within and be sanctioned—even sanctified—by the orthodox (156).

Campbell's project is ultimately affirmative of community, as she rethinks relationality through—or with—both the centrality of hagiography and the liminality of the saint. Campbell argues that the "renegotiation of the social models that underwrite relationships can produce alternative modes of connection and community," and that such a project is "essential to Old French saints' lives and their readers" (4). In Campbell's reading, hagiography thus advocates "a form of being together" (224) determined by human systems only inasmuch as departing from them, and "where relationships can be conceptualized outside the limits that such systems place on desire and social identity" (224).

Campbell begins in chapter one, "The Gift, Sacrifice and Social Economy," by discussing acts of renunciation in the lives of Gilles, Lawrence, George, and others, arguing that saints' (self-) donations function as a giving of that which the saint never possessed. She then devotes chapter two, "The Gender of the Gift," to exploring the role of gender in saintly self-donation, drawing on anthropologist Marilyn Strathern's work on on the saints' lives of Agnes, Euphrosine, and Julian. In the third and perhaps most innovative chapter, "Incest and Life at the Limits of the Social," Campbell considers the lives of Christine and Gregory, where incest "troubles" kinship in both terrestrial and divine realms. If incest functions as an unsurpassable limit in human kinship, Campbell claims that saints occupy that limit to at least two ends: to signal that human kinship "is both finite and inherently—even incestuously—flawed" (94), and to demonstrate how divine kinship recuperates, pardons, and transforms such desires and relations. As Campbell writes, "To ask whether Gregory loves his mother/aunt/ex-wife as a mother, aunt, or ex-wife, or indeed whether he loves her as a sister or as a daughter in his new role as pope and self-acknowledged son of God would be to miss the point. The point here is that any or all of these possibilities are legitimated by his relationship to her through God" (89).

In chapter four, "Marriage and Queer Desire," Campbell discusses virgin nuptiality, signaling the queer potentialities born of the fact that it "is not securely grounded either in sexual difference or in sexual desire" (108), and pointing out that marriage to God is generally a polygamous affair (114). Turning from kinship more specifically to community as such in chapters five and six, "Textual Community" and "Queer Community," Campbell articulates Carolyn Dinshaw's notion of "queer community" with writings by Giorgio Agamben and Jean-Luc Nancy. [End Page 106] Taking up the idea that community figures "as both...


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