New Legends of England
Forms of Community in Late Medieval Saints' LivesUniversity of Pennsylvania Press The Middle Ages Series
In New Legends of England, Catherine Sanok examines a significant, albeit previously unrecognized, phenomenon of fifteenth-century literary culture in England: the sudden fascination with the Lives of British, Anglo-Saxon, and other native saints. Embodying a variety of literary forms—from elevated Latinate verse, to popular traditions such as the carol, to translations of earlier verse legends into the medium of prose—the Middle English Lives of England's saints are rarely discussed in relation to one another or seen as constituting a distinct literary genre. However, Sanok argues, these legends, when grouped together were an important narrative forum for exploring overlapping forms of secular and religious community at local, national, and supranational scales: the monastery, the city, and local cults; the nation and the realm; European Christendom and, at the end of the fifteenth century, a world that was suddenly expanding across the Atlantic.
Reading texts such as the South English Legendary, The Life of St. Etheldrede, the Golden Legend, and poems about Saints Wenefrid and Ursula, Sanok focuses especially on the significance of their varied and often experimental forms. She shows how Middle English Lives of native saints revealed, through their literary forms, modes of affinity and difference that, in turn, reflected a diversity in the extent and structure of medieval communities. Taking up key questions about jurisdiction, temporality, and embodiment, New Legends of England presents some of the ways in which the Lives of England's saints theorized community and explored its constitutive paradox: the irresolvable tension between singular and collective forms of identity.
A Note on Spelling and Abbreviations
Chapter 1. Conceptualizing Community in the South English Legendary
Chapter 2. The Phenomenal Bodies of Anglo-Saxon Virgins
Chapter 3. Local Community and Secular Poetics in Middle English Lives of St. Wenefred
Chapter 4. Englishing the Golden Legend and the Geography of Religious Community
Chapter 5. Secular, Religious, and Literary Jurisdictions
Chapter 6. The City and the Inner Precincts of the Sacred
Chapter 7. St. Ursula and the Scale of English Community
"This is a very rich book that confidently traverses a wide scope of texts, concepts, and contexts. Sanok's claim for the intellectual depth of these hitherto derided hagiographical compositions are persuasively stated and extremely thought provoking. There is much here to appeal, not just to those interested in medieval saints and devotion but also to those seeking to better understand how people in late medieval England made sense of their communities and of themselves.""—Speculum
"[A]mbitious in scope, situating the work of the SEL poet, Osbern Bokenham, and John Lydgate in a larger context of vernacular hagiographic production in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Impressively interdisciplinary, and copiously annotated and indexed, Sanok’s stylish monograph combines textual and critical expertise and contemporary theory of poetic form, “scale,” and “community” (the book’s recurring theme) with a thorough grounding in modern historical scholarship, on which Sanok draws judiciously to contextualize and historicize her primary texts."—Modern Philology
"[A] rigorous investigation of the ways in which community was scaled in the late Middle Ages - from one's own interiority to the sense of belonging to a global Christendom - and how this consideration of scale is present in hagiography from the period. Sanok's theory of saints as mediating forces, able at once to represent the lived female experience and a local community like the one at Wilton Abbey, is consistently well-supported by her close-reading of the Lives as well as her consideration of the texts' form."—Anglia
"Impressive in scope and consequence, New Legends of England is a crucial contribution to the study of medieval and early modern literature. I know of no other work that thinks so hard and so productively about the capacities of the legendary or makes hagiography so much a part of the common intellectual landscape of the late Middle Ages."—Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Fordham University