Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 10405
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Filax , Elaine.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Female Ideal: Chaucer's Second Nun
  • Source: Sovereign Lady: Essays on Women in Middle English Literature.  Edited by Muriel Whitaker.  Garland Publishing, 1995.  Pages 133 - 156.
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Essay
  • Subject (See Also): Cecilia, Saint Chaucer, Geoffrey, Poet- Canterbury Tales- Second Nun's Prologue Chaucer, Geoffrey, Poet- Canterbury Tales- Second Nun's Tale Mary, Virgin, Saint in Literature Nuns in Literature Virginity
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 14
  • Related Resources: "The anonymous Second Nun of "The Canterbury Tales" is the subject of Elaine Filax' essay, "A Female I-deal: Chaucer's Second Nun." This woman who is simply described as the Prioress' chaplain/companion is but the shadow of a person in the General Prologue. The narrator mentions no details regarding her appearance, clothing, or behavior. Yet, rather surprisingly, she does tell a tale which is preceded by a 119-line prologue. The prologue consists of a preamble regarding the evils of idleness, an invocation to Mary, and several etymological analyses of the name of Cecilia, the heroine of the tale to follow. Filax points out that the prologue and tale are linked by the concept of virginity since both Mary and St. Cecilia were virgins. Their bodies are significant. By not using their bodies for corrupt purposes, they divest themselves of their bodies and can thus be raised to the spiritual plane. The author suggests that the Second Nun may not be a virgin: she refers to herself as "an unworthy sone of Eve," to her soul as being in the prison of the body. Her gendered body has not been displaced by the spirit as is the case with women who are virgins. She becomes "a communicatory object of exchange between a medieval male writer and modern critics." (149) This is an interesting and somewhat complex essay. The choice to define the meaning of absence in the case of the Prioress' companion leads to abstraction and conjecture. Further consideration of the themes of both prologue and tale might lead to different conclusions. Virginity is no guarantee of sanctity. The Nun's comments about the corruption of her own body are very characteristic of a medieval spirituality which disparaged the body and considered it a hindrance to the spiritual life. St. Francis of Assisi was an example of such a view. To be a virgin did not preclude thoughts of one's own sinfulness and unworthiness." From the review written by Elizabeth Walsh of "Sovereign Lady," "Medieval Review" (TMR ID: 96.12.11). [Reproduced by permission of the "Medieval Review."].
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  • Year of Publication: 1995.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: Not Available
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