Incest and the Medieval Imagination

Hardcover | April 15, 2001

byElizabeth Archibald

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Incest is a remarkably frequent theme in medieval literature; it occurs in a wide range of genres, including romances, saints's lives, and exempla. Historically, the Church in the later Middle Ages was very concerned about breaches of the complex laws against incest, which was defined verybroadly at the time to cover family relationships outside the nuclear family and also spiritual relationships through baptism. Medieval writers accepted that incestuous desire was a widespread phenomenon among women as well as men. They are surprisingly open about incest, though of course theydisapprove of it; in many exemplary stories incest is identified with original sin, but the moral emphasizes the importance of contrition and the availability of grace even to such heinous sinners.This study begins with a brief account of the development of medieval incest laws, and the extent to which they were obeyed. Next comes a survey of classical incest stories and their legacy; many were retold in the Middle Ages, but they were frequently adapted to the purposes of Christianmoralizers. In the three chapters that follow, homegrown medieval incest stories are grouped by relationship: mother-son (focusing on the Gregorius legend), father-daughter (focusing on La Manekine and its analogues), and sibling (focusing on the Arthurian legend). The final chapter considers thevery common medieval trope of the Virgin Mary as mother, daughter, sister and bride of Christ, the one exception to the incest taboo. In western society today, incest has recently been recognized as a serious social problem, and has also become a frequent theme in both fiction and non-fiction, just as it was in the Middle Ages. This interdisciplinary study is the first broad survey of medieval incest stories in Latin and thevernaculars (mainly French, English and German). It situates the incest theme in both literary and cultural contexts, and offers many thought-provoking comparisons and contrasts to our own society in terms of gender relations, the power of patriarchy, the role of religious institutions in regulatingmorality, and the relationship between life and literature.

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Incest is a remarkably frequent theme in medieval literature; it occurs in a wide range of genres, including romances, saints's lives, and exempla. Historically, the Church in the later Middle Ages was very concerned about breaches of the complex laws against incest, which was defined verybroadly at the time to cover family relationshi...

Elizabeth Archibald is Senior Lecturer in English, University of Bristol

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:312 pages, 8.5 × 5.43 × 0.83 inPublished:April 15, 2001Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0198112092

ISBN - 13:9780198112099

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Table of Contents

AbbreviationsConventionsA Note on TerminologyIntroductionDangerous Propinquity1. Medieval Incest Law - Theory and Practice2. The Classical Legacy3. Mothers and Sons4. Fathers and Daughters5. Siblings and Other RelativesConclusionSex, Sin, and SalvationAppendixSynopses of Flight from Incestuous Father StoriesBibliographyIndex

Editorial Reviews

"Elizabeth Archibald has here compiled a wealth of information and shown the materials she has collected since 1984, when she began publishing on the subject. Her work succeeds as she aspires to a literary archaeology providing her fieldwork for the interpretations of other critical writers."
--Speculum