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Biography 23.2 (2000) 375-379

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Catherine M. Mooney, ed. Gendered Voices: Medieval Saints and Their Interpreters. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1999. 276 pp. ISBN 0-8122-1687-3, $19.95.

This collection of essays deals with an area of research--the cult of the saints during the medieval period--that has long attracted the attention of experts and scholars. As Caroline Walker Bynum notes in the Foreword that introduces the book, saints in general and hagiography in particular can now be said to constitute "a microcosm of the study of European history" (ix). In this connection, the essays gathered here have for their purpose an examination of the manner in which medieval hagiography contributes to our understanding of the role and function of gender as it influences the textual depiction of women and as it supports a specific world view and order. Whereas the experiences and voices of women have been studied extensively in recent years, little attention has been paid to the frequently diverging depictions of women as they are articulated or mediated by male writers. This collection endeavors to fill that gap by analyzing a number of texts on female holiness which alternatively were authored by women, dictated by them to a male admirer, written in collaboration be-tween holy models and admirers, and authored by men. In texts that entail collaboration, the question is to discern women's and men's voices; and in the case of male-authored texts, to examine whether and how those alter the religious experiences of the women they purport to exalt. According to the the editor, Catherine M. Mooney, this collection of essays thus focuses "on female self-representations and male representations of female sanctity" in an attempt to assess, first, the "gendered" character of the resulting portrayals, and second, the extent to which such portrayals may be influenced "not so much by gender as by genre" (1, 2).

From Hildegard of Bingen, in the early twelfth century, to Dorothea of Montau, in the early fifteenth century, the eight saints considered in this collection differ from one another in terms of time and location, and the accounts associated with them are also marked by diversity and disparity, as they are comprised of "vitae, letters, personal revelations, inquisitorial records, theological commentaries, and personal prayers" (6-7). Nonethe-less, these texts share a number of features which, taken together, point to the influence of genre in the resulting depiction of female sanctity. One crucial feature is the element of textualization that characterizes those hagiographic accounts, and a representative example of this can be found in the records of the visionary experience of Elisabeth of Scho¨nau (d. 1164/65). Anne L. Clark's analysis of this corpus, "Holy Woman or Unworthy Vessel? The Representation of Elisabeth of Scho¨nau," underscores the manner in [End Page 375] which Ekbert, Elisabeth's brother and the transcriber of her visions, controlled the textualization of his sister's own description of her mystic experiences. Ekbert suppressed items when he felt it necessary, wrote introductions that emphasized what he considered significant about her visions, and reinscribed her experiences in a way that interpreted them "as primarily relevant to her own inner life" (39). In contrast with Elisabeth's self-representation as a messenger inspired by divine will and graced by visions of a universal value, her brother interpreted her experience "in light of the role of women" (42). In time, however, Ekbert came to agree with, and transcribed more faithfully, his sister's profound conviction that her prophetic role was intricately connected with her religious state and devotion. The resulting text therefore bespeaks the presence of a dynamic interaction between Ekbert and Elisabeth wherein he induced his sister's "interest in the constitution of her visions as a book" (44), while she shaped his textualization of her experience such that, more than a passive recipient of God's revelations, she became an active participant in them. As both "a record of divine revelations" and as "the portrayal of the life of a holy woman" (50), the resulting Scho¨nau...