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REVIEWS circumstances, the title/author label on the front cover of my copy came unstuck. Lawrence Besserman Hebrew University Nancy Bradley Warren. Spiritual Economies: Female Monasticism in Later Medieval England. The Middle Ages Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. Pp. xi, 276. $55.00 Spiritual Economies represents a rare case in which the title before the colon is more illuminating than the subtitle. For Nancy Warren’s stimulating book is not so much about female monasticism as about the ‘‘symbolic capital’’ invested by Lancastrian, Yorkist, and clerical elites in women’s spirituality. In Warren’s view this investment was so great, but also so perilous and contested, that kings and nobles were willing to defend it with huge sums of real capital, while clerics and poets deployed a range of repressive strategies to keep women at men’s service and prevent them from taking the valuable commodity of their holiness into their own hands. Spiritual Economies consists of seven chapters, each exploring one interface between female religiosity and the mechanisms of social control. In Part 1, ‘‘Monastic Identities in Theory and Practice,’’ Warren investigates the dialectic between autonomy and subordination that marked the nun’s ‘‘Janus-faced’’ identity as a bride of Christ. Chapter 1 compares vows, profession rituals, and visitation practices in three English women’s orders, showing that Brigittines and Franciscans (or Minoresses ) enjoyed significantly more control over their own religious lives than did Benedictines. This is not surprising, since Benedictine nuns followed a rule written by and for men, while Franciscans and Brigittines used the female-centered rules of their foundresses—St. Clare, Princess Isabelle of France, and the formidable Birgitta herself. In Chapter 2 Warren turns to vernacular translations of rules for women, highlighting parallels between the subordinate status of nuns and that of the ‘‘mother tongue’’ vis-à-vis Latin. Subtle differences between the Benedictine Rule and its English renderings show that nuns’ versions tended to disparage women’s cognitive abilities, diminish the abbess’s 439 ................. 9680$$ CH16 11-01-10 12:37:37 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER authority, and stress the dangers of carnality, whereas the Brigittine Rewyll of Seynt Sauioure—originally composed in Swedish—and the nuns’ service book, The Myroure of Oure Ladye, gave ‘‘female readers access to an incarnational textuality in which the ‘mother tongue’ is salvific rather than lacking and unruly’’ (p. 54). Chapter 3 extends the comparison to the marketplace, where Warren finds less contrast than similarity. The wealthiest nunnery in England was the Brigittine abbey of Syon, founded by Henry V in 1415 with a vast endowment and numerous exemptions. But similar privileges were enjoyed by the Franciscans of Denney, where Margery Kempe was a frequent guest, while the abbesses of the great Saxon foundations (Shaftesbury, Wilton, Barking) retained the baronial status befitting their immense holdings. The thrust of this chapter is to combat the stereotype that most nuns were impoverished and incompetent businesswomen . Warren notes approvingly if ironically that ‘‘the London Minoresses . . . were among the wealthiest nuns in England’’ (p. 59), a situation that would have given their foundress little joy. But she does not discuss the many small houses that suffered from genuine poverty, nor the restrictions that enclosure may have imposed on nuns’ economic lives. In Part 2, ‘‘Beyond the Convent Wall,’’ Warren turns to her broader subject, the symbolic capital derived from female spirituality. Chapters 4 and 6 are literary, analyzing the anonymous Book to a Mother, the Book of Margery Kempe, Lydgate’s Life of Our Lady, and Bokenham’s Legendys of Hooly Wummen, while Chapters 5 and 7 are historical, dealing with the monarchy’s political deployment of holy women. Warren’s two literary chapters construct an ideological struggle between the textual authority of men and the ‘‘incarnational’’ authority of women, rooted in Mary’s motherhood. In anxious masculine eyes, religious women constituted ‘‘both a source of symbolic capital and a sink of corruption’’ (p. 80). The author supplies an insightful reading of Kempe, building on twenty years of intensive discussion, but her interpretations of Lydgate and Bokenham tend to overshoot the mark. These readings lean heavily on Bloomian anxiety of influence, supplemented by Irigaray’s theory of...

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