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Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts (BA)
Department of English
Dabney A. Bankert
This thesis compares a medieval and modern text, Chaucer’s “Lyfe of Seinte Cecile” and Kate Horsley’s Confessions of a Pagan Nun," to explore female spirituality. Horsley writes in the twenty-first century, a time of significantly more opportunity for women compared to the fourteenth-century world of Chaucer. The latter belongs to the virgin martyr sub-genre of medieval hagiography, a genre Horsley mimics. These differences aside, both texts are revealing of Christianity's ability both to empower and to oppress women. A comparison of Horsley’stwenty-first century rendition of the life of a medieval woman with Chaucer’s fourteenth-century version exposes the problems with feminist readings of female saints’ lives as well as the ways in which faith intersects with other aspects of identity. The Second Nun's Prologue which precedes Chaucer's tale establishes an unrealistic feminine ideal modeled on the Virgin Mary, that is reflected in the character of the protagonist Cecilia. The more complex experience of faith experienced by Horsley's character, Gwynneve, exposes the ways in which the virgin martyr genre was undeniably Christian propaganda that manipulated the female experience of faith with the intention of promoting the Church's gender ideals. Horsley’s novel imagines what is omitted or obscured from a medieval narrative that reflects as much the patriarchal institution of the church as women’s experience.
Constance, Lillian, "I, a saint; I, a sinner: Rereading female sanctity in Chaucer’s “Lyfe of Seinte Cecile” and Kate Horsley’s Confessions of a Pagan Nun" (2017). Senior Honors Projects, 2010-current. 354.