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THE VOICE OF THE VIRGIN: ACCESSIBLEAUTHORITY IN THE VISITATION EPISODE OF ISABEL DE VILLENA'S VITA CHRISTI David Barnett Queen Mary, University of London There has been considerable debate on the degree offeminism or femininity attributable to the style and content of Isabel de Villena's late-fifteenth-century Vita Christi.1 In a recent contribution to this question, Montserrat Piera lists the four elements on which such criticism has focused: the importance of the Virgin's role; the prominence of otlier women characters; the author's positive regard for women; and the use of stylistic traits such as diminutives, affective language, and domestic realism (109-110). Piera argues convincingly that Villena's decision to write a Vita Christi herself for the nuns of the Trinitat convent where she was abbess is an indication of" a clear feminist intentionality" (112). Such a decision, as Piera stresses, must have been based on some level of dissatisfaction with the male-authored antecedents in her chosen genre. An analysis of what Villena does differently may enable us to refine our perception ofthe distinctiveness of her style and its relationship to her authorial project. In order to establish some of the points of divergence between Villena's version and those ofher genre's predecessors, I compare her 1 The debate was triggered by two essays byJoan Fuster inwhich he identifies a style "que només s'explica per la condicio femenina de qui l'escriu" ("Jaume Roig i Sor Isabel de Villena", 239) and avision characterizedby "una perspectiva estrictament de dona" (El man literari de SorIsabel de Villena, 26). Subsequent contributions include Martí de Riquer, Rosanna Cantavella, Albert-Guillem HäufiVails ("La Vita Christi de Sor Isabel de Villena", "El món cultural d'Isabel de Villena", and "Introduction"), Maria Mercè Marcai, Rafael Alemany Ferrer, Josep-Lluis Orts Molmes and Montserrat Piera. La corónica 35.1 (Fall, 2006): 23-45 24David BarnettLa coránica 35.1, 2006 treatment of the Visitation episode with that of three earlier authors: the Meditationes Vitae Christi, written in Latin between 1290 and 1310 by the Franciscan monk, John of Caulibus, for a Poor Clare nun; the mid-fourteenth-century Vita Christi of the Carthusian Ludolph of Saxony, also in Latin; and the Catalan Vita Christi by Francese Eiximenis, also a Franciscan, from the late fourteenth century. All three of these Villena herself "coneixia i tenia al davant" (Hauf, "Introduction" 41). The Visitation, one of the few episodes from the life of the Virgin in the New Testament, centres on Mary's encounter with another woman, her cousin Elizabeth. It is covered in only one of the Gospels, Luke 1:39-79.2 The main events of Luke's account are as follows: after having been told by an angel that she is to give birth to a son called Jesus and that her previously barren cousin Elizabeth is six months pregnant, Mary leaves Nazareth for the house of Elizabeth and Zacharias in Judah. On arrival, Mary greets Elizabeth; the unborn John die Baptist leaps in her (Elizabeth's) womb; Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesies that both Mary and her child will be blessed. Mary replies with a prayer in praise ofGod, the Magnificat. Luke then reports that Mary stayed at her cousin's house for three months before returning to her own home.3 The birth ofJohn the Baptist is followed eight days later by his circumcision and naming. Zacharias miraculously recovers his speech (in Luke 1:19-20 he had been struck dumb by the angel Gabriel for doubting), and prophesies the salvation of the world in the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79). In order to analyse differences in emphasis between these five accounts oftheVisitation, I have divided the episode into nine constituent scenes and calculated the space -both in number ofwords and as a percentage of the whole episode- that the authors ascribe to each (see Table 1 in die Appendix). This analysis shows that Villena gives relatively more weight to three scenes: the opening scene, in which Mary ponders the forthcoming trip; the closing scene, in which the protagonists bid each other an emotional farewell; and the birth ofJohn die...


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