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  • Saints and Monsters in Medieval French and Occitan Literature: Sublime and Abject Bodies by Huw Grange
  • Luke Sunderland
Saints and Monsters in Medieval French and Occitan Literature: Sublime and Abject Bodies. By Huw Grange. (Research Monographs in French Studies, 53.) Oxford: Legenda, 2017. 140 pp.

This study of hagiography, characterized by Huw Grange's wit and brightness throughout, opens with comparisons of saints to comic-book superheroes, as pagan persecutors are made the horrible villains of the piece. Such sublime and abject bodies provide inimitable models, although we are in some sense enjoined to try to repeat the stories by acting as good Christians. The author moves with an impressive lightness of touch across a huge range of versions of four saints' lives—those of Margaret, George, Honorat, and Enimia—covering verse and prose, and Latin, French, and Occitan, in mostly unpublished manuscript versions. That Grange manages this in a relatively short book, without making the readings trivial, represents a considerable accomplishment. His method involves surveying the main differences between versions, focusing on how they figure the sublime and the abject dimensions of saintly scenarios. Saints transcend their physical bodies to varying degrees, and there is vacillation about the corporeality of dragons: are they in some sense material beings, or just manifestations of evil? The 'Saracens', too, are by turns cast as humans convertible to Christianity and as absolutely irrecoverable others, the latter pole feeding fantasies of their annihilation. Grange's broad engagement with theories of the body, of time, of kinship, and of community remains critical throughout; he seeks to show the limits of modern [End Page 428] philosophical concepts, highlighting in particular blind spots concerning the question of agency in Kristeva's abject, as well as her awkward theoretical leaps from psyche to polis. Another focus lies on 'asynchronies' (multiple time zones), a concept inspired by Carolyn Dinshaw's work, which Grange develops as a useful alternative to the idea of anachronisms. Hagiography often troubles narrative chronology suggesting, for example, that the existence of timeless conflicts makes third-century Rome and the First Crusade assimilable realities. Everywhere and at every stage of history, there are 'Saracens', in different forms, to be confronted. Grange also convincingly articulates the importance of different concerns in each work. Margaret's tale, across various retellings, deals with gender, questioning the naturalization of women's bodies as maternal and allowing for different physical potentials; whereas the lives of Enimia, who abandons the court to embrace a life of leprosy and rocky wilderness, reveal the cultural contingency of the zone between the two deaths, which here vehicles an Occitan protest against French royal power. Gévaudan, her place of exile, is a fully fledged community defined by opposition to the barbarous realm of France, apparently the last to convert to Christianity. George's narrative raises questions about the interaction between cosmopolitanism and identitarian groupings, and, lastly, Honorat, through his repeatedly refigured familial ties to his cultic community, invites consideration of queer kinship, whilst his miracles work to make families more functional, straightening out ancestral genealogy in the temporal sphere. A final key concern of Grange's is the material links of texts to communities. Hagiographies frequently exhort readers to carry the text around for protection, and many modern readers will find this book a kindly and insightful companion during their explorations of the genre.

Luke Sunderland
Durham University


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pp. 428-429
Launched on MUSE
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