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184 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 Chulainn, her role is more confrontational. These latter are the sources, respectively, for W.B. Yeats's plays, On Baile's Strand and The Only Jealousy of Emer, where Yeats offered his own readings of their tragic complexity. The words of the childless Erner in The Death ofAife's Only Son attempt (but fail) to dissuade her husband from following his heroic code to its logical, disastrous, conclusion, whereupon Connla, Cli Chulainn'sson byAffe, dies at his father's hand. The Wasting Sickness ofCtl Chulainn centres on the motif of the 'fairy mistress,' found in other medieval Irish narratives, and in modern oral storytelling, where a woman from the Otherworld makes sexual advances to the mortal hero, threatening the whole fabric of his social life. Pindon suggests that Emer!s words, reminding her husband of their former happiness, have the effect of beginning his break with Fand, his fairy mistress, and his return to her. This seems incontestable,butitmay be added that her words also amount to a reassertion ofthe human contract between them: something which can be relied on, in stories of this shape, to triumph over the seductions of the Otherworld. Although the Ulster cycle is the product of many minds and hands over hundreds of years, this study shows Emer as a remarkably consistent literary construct: a noble and articulate woman who is the equal of her husband and whose speech, significantly, is not censured or silenced by the authors who report it. Women's Words is a scrupulously scholarly work - a third of the total is devoted to an appendix on sources and manuscripts, notes! bibliography, and index - and each of the four chapters begins with a literature review and a summary of the tale in question. Despite this rather programmatic approach, it demonstrates an admirable ability to get to grips with the detail of medieval text while retaining a clear-eyed overview of the literary cuIture whichproduced it. (Some minor linguistic criticisms may, however, be permitted in the interest of accuracy: Tain B6 Cuailnge, not Cuailgne or Cualigne; briatharchath, not briatharcath; samildanach not samildanach; indfir, quoted as a nominative on P 70, is a genitive form.) Findon's work is original and important, and unlikely to be superseded for some time. (ANGELA BOURKE) Sheila Delany. Impolitic Bodies: Poetry, Saints, and Society in Fifteenth-Century England:The Work of Oshern Bokenham Oxford University Press. xii, 236. $29.95 The fifteenth century enjoys the unique distinction in English literary history ofbeing notable for its dullness. Itis a barren landscape, peopled by tedious Chaucerian epigones, repetitious biblical cycles, and torturous attempts at prose - a time in which no head rises above the monograde level of shoulder. Delany!s recent study should help to change the perceived tenor of the century by adding the figure of Osbern Bokenham: HUMANITIES 185 Augustinian friar, proto-humanist, author and translator, widely travelled servant of his order and of the house of York. Delany succeeds in demonstrating why Bokenham's Legends of Holy Women deserves our attention, both by meticulously tracing fifteenth-century networks of patronage and political interest inscribed in his all-female legendary, and by providing fresh and provocative materials towards a history of the late-medieval gendered body. Itis salutary tobe reminded that saints' lives have always been reshaped according to the author's ideology. In Bokenham's case the distinctive representational strategies empowering women in the text are, Delany argues, polemically aimed at the political project of exhorting Richard III to power; thus the privileging of women in this work bespeaks an interest in Richard's matrilineal claim to the throne. Bokenham's courageous depiction of the subversive talking, arguing, teaching, and preaching St Katherine, whose language is a body (a corpus) moulded by various discourses , partly overcomes clerical antifeminism; while the amplified references to the amputation and restoration of St Agatha's breasts performs a rehabilitation of femininity for theological and political purposes, in repudiation of courtly fashions of displaying naked breasts and lover poets who rip apart the female body in verse. Here Delany importantly argues that in Bokenham's rewriting of Chaucer's Legend of Good Women he rejects the master...


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