Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 9331
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Zacher , Samantha.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Masquerade and Mimesis: The Old English Transvestite Lives as Models for Female Sanctity
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 33, 3 (Spring 2000): Paper presented at the Thirty-Fifth International Congress on Medieval Studies, The Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University, May 4-7, 2000, Session 110: "Ælfric's Saints."
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Ælfric, Abbot of Eynsham- Lives of the Saints- Life of Eugenia Cross Dressing in Literature Hagiography Literature- Verse
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 10
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  • Abstract: Though it is generally argued that Anglo-Saxon female saints' lives provided active models for female sanctity, criticism draws a clear line between imitanda (stories to be imitated) and admiranda (stories to be admired). Admiranda are placed in a separate category because they depict instances of self-mutilation, psychosis, transvestism, and other undesirable behaviors. Though these categories are helpful in determining the purpose and audience of these lives, they are not indisputable. By examining Ælfric's life of Eugenia, my aim is to challenge or "trouble" the rigidity of these commonplace divisions, and to show that the model of sanctity demonstrated by the saint is infinitely more suggestible to audience participation than is commonly allowed. Though contemporary readership emphasizes the literal disguise, my aim is to redirect attention to the symbolic act of mimesis itself. My first task is to examine the rhetoric which describes Eugenia's mental transformation. Epithets like “werlicum had” and “werlicum mode” demonstrate that Eugenia is able to negotiate gender boundaries to the point where she occupies "masculinity" not only in appearance, but also in thought, disposition, and even desire. However, this does not mean, as some theorists would suggest, that Eugenia obliterates her feminine identity. That Eugenia still identifies with her feminine body is readily apparent in the scene where she reveals her naked breasts to her father. Consulting Luce Irigaray and Mary Anne Doane's observations on "female" mimesis, I show that Eugenia is not "simply reabsorbed" into her function as a mime. Rather, Eugenia's masquerade enables her (in Mary Anne Doane's words) to "manufacture a distance from the image to generate a problematic within which the image is manipulable, producible, and readable by women." Doane's assessment helps not only to explain Eugenia's condition, but also to reevaluate the role of the audience in relation to the text. By generating a transgressive space in which categories of gender are negotiable, Doane's assessment reveals that it becomes possible for the reader/listener to project herself symbolically and powerfully into the role of transgressor through yet another act of mimesis. [Reproduced by permission of the editor Robert L. Schichler and the editors of the Old English Newsletter.]
  • Author's Affiliation: University of Toronto
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 2000.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973
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