1st Edition

Everyday Saints and the Art of Narrative in the South English Legendary

By Anne B. Thompson Copyright 2003

    Anne Thompson here gives the fullest account and explanation to date of the diversity of the more than sixty manuscripts of the South English Legendary, a late thirteenth-century collection of lively verse lives of saints, in a southern English dialect. The importance of the SEL to hagiographic and cultural studies has been increasingly acknowledged in recent years. Without denying the legendaries’ religious purpose, this book looks at the way SEL narratives reflect and address the complex, interwined tapestry”political, social, religious”of Edward I’s England, while retaining a strong emphasis on the craft of story-telling. Thompson shows the SEL to be a fresh and exciting early example of popular vernacular literature. Firmly grounded in rural and small town life of the 1270s to 1290s in the west of England, it is uniquely significant for any understanding of that culture.

    Contents: Note on transcription and translation; Introduction: Tales of the saints: Beginnings; The legend of St Hilary; Hagiography and its discontents; The art of narrative and the influence of everyday life; Writing in English: The poetry of popular instruction; The Ormulum; Cursor Mundi; Handlyng Synnne; The South English Legendary; The Art of Narrative: Narrative Beginnings: Narrative and repetition in the Ormulum; Cursor Mundi's coherent biography; The South English Legendary and the perils of originality; The uses of Romance: Romance as a generic influence; Mary Magdalen and the prince of Marseille; Isumbras and Eustace; The Isumbras romance; The Eustace legend; The idea of a collection: Sources and authors; The idea of a collection; The triumph of narrative in All Souls; The story of the buried miner; The influence of everyday life: Escaping the Virgin martyr plot; Frideswide of Oxford; Ordinary wives; The legend of Julian the Hospitaller; The legend of Clement; Conclusion: Telling stories about the world; A world of people; The natural world; Letting the tale speak; Appendix; Bibliography; Index.


    Anne B. Thompson

    'It is a pleasure to welcome the first book on the South English Legendary devoted to stressing its literary virtues and the enjoyment to be derived from reading it.' Notes and Queries 'Thompson's excellent book is a welcome addition to a growing body of scholarship that seeks to look beyond generic boundaries - particularly those between religious and secular literature - to situate medieval texts within their particular cultural moments. It illumniates the ways in which poets writing in English struggled to create a narrative style that would convey divine truths in a language rooted in real human life. An appendix provides an overview for those seeking more detail about the SEL's textual history.' The Medieval Review 'Anne Thompson's study goes a long way toward making the Legendary more familiar to Middle English scholars who seek to recover the 'horizon of expectations' of a medieval audience encountering one of more of the saints' lives in the collection... The book is well written and produced, and it represents a substantial advance in the study of major Middle English text.' Speculum