In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

REVIEWS ested in English historical linguistics and medieval literature, and will be essential reading for students of these disciplines. Simon Horobin University of Glasgow Peggy McCracken. The Curse of Eve, the Wound of the Hero: Blood, Gender , and Medieval Literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. Pp. xii, 178. $38.95. ‘‘Blood seems to be everywhere in medieval culture.’’ So begins the preface of The Curse of Eve, the Wound of the Hero. From this simple observation , Peggy McCracken spins out her argument that medieval culture mapped gendered values onto blood as it manifested itself in menstruation , parturition, battlefield gore, martyrdom, and genealogy. In particular , the romances that described these phenomena did so in ways that naturalized ideologies of gender for medieval audiences. As the book’s title suggests, women’s blood—the blood of menstruation and parturition —is generally, but not exclusively, represented as polluting (the curse of Eve), while men’s blood—whether shed on the battlefield or figured in genealogy—is associated with power and agency (the wound of the hero). Thus, according to McCracken, the negative and private values attributed to women’s blood (which must remain unseen) are essential to figuring the positive and public values associated with male blood, these opposing values providing a template for the medieval gender system. The book’s premise seems simple enough; it is suggested by the cover, which depicts a scene of bloodletting from an historiated initial entirely in black and white except for a single stream of red blood issuing from the incision, a motif that is picked up by the words ‘‘curse’’ and ‘‘wound’’ in the title in blood-red letters. Working out the textual elaborations of this hierarchical gender system, however, proves more complex. The sexual economies—particularly the exchanges of women—depicted in romances depend on blood to create a nexus of beliefs, values, and practices connecting ideas about virginity, martyrdom, adultery, and juridical combat. If, as the first chapter argues, the symbolic potential of PAGE 337 337 ................. 11491$ CH13 11-01-10 14:02:44 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER women’s blood expressed in such texts remains tied to the body, while the significance of men’s blood is tied to public contests between men, then what anxieties result when women’s blood threatens to invade the public space of male combat in the figure of the woman warrior? McCracken explores fears about the feminization of warfare—specifically about the threat of ‘‘contamination’’ from menstrual blood—in medieval figures from Medb in the Tain Bo Cúalnge to Joan of Arc. And, if the female soldier is a threatening figure within medieval culture, how much more so is the homicidal mother? Medieval romances abound in tales of parents sacrificing their children, but these texts ascribe different meanings to maternal and paternal sacrifice based on the differential meanings of paternal and maternal blood—the blood of lineage and the blood of parturition. While the metonymic figure of shared blood establishes paternal authority over the child through lineage, the contributions of maternal blood are often debated in stories of monstrous birth and point to the significance of postpartum purity rituals, in particular the mother ’s ritual isolation after childbirth, called in Old French the gesine, in establishing the meaning of the blood of parturition. Ultimately what these practices and the romances that incorporate them suggest is that the mother’s very visible, very material contribution of blood (the blood of parturition) during childbirth reinforces the link between women and body, while the symbolic relationship between father and child (figured by the father’s blood) provides the child access to the ‘‘higher goods of lineage, covenant, honor, and worth’’ (p. 89). In the final chapter , the public and private, literal and figurative meanings of blood come together in the eucharistic ritual, when the eucharistic wine literally becomes the blood of Christ. The grail romances provide McCracken with an opportunity to explore the meaning of the blood sacrifice that is the central mystery of Christianity. The strange excesses of these romances not only bring together many of the themes explored in earlier chapters, but they also trouble these ‘‘essentializing representations of gendered blood’’ (p...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 337-339
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.