Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Text in context: Representing writing in medieval religious narrative
by Leff, Amanda M., Ph.D., New York University, 2009, 227; 3365705
Abstract (Summary)

My dissertation explores the function of devotional narratives as pedagogical tools for training medieval readers and listeners to think about, engage with, and read written texts. I analyze representations of written things—that is, representations of letters from God, tomb inscriptions, inscriptions on the bodies of saints, and so on—in Middle English religious stories, including John Lydgate's "The Legend of Dan Joos," sermon exempla from An Alphabet of Tales, St. Kenelm, and the alliterative St. Erkenwald. All of these narratives are explicitly didactic, and I argue that their didacticism involves the inculcation not only of Christian morals, but also of particular attitudes toward, ways of experiencing, or ways of reading texts. I situate each narrative in its cultural, devotional, and historical setting in order to evaluate how it might have been responding to the literary needs or experiences of its audience and how, in turn, it might have influenced the literary practices of that audience. In all of the narratives that I look at, the materiality of the represented text plays a crucial role in its capacity to signify or serve its function in the story. The stories represent texts as charms, as miraculous objects, as relics, as talismans. They therefore offer even illiterate or partially literate listeners models for meaningful experience with written things, and they offer literate readers and listeners a broader conception of what it means to read. In so doing, they provide us with alternative models of medieval literacy and help us to expand our definition of what it means to be literate in the Middle Ages.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Carruthers, Mary
Commitee: Crane, Susan, Rust, Martha
School: New York University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 70/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Medieval literature
Keywords: Alphabet of Tales, Exempla, Legend of Dan Joos, Lydgate, John, St. Erkenwald, St. Kenelm
Publication Number: 3365705
ISBN: 978-1-109-25860-8
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