Andrew W. Mellon Graduate Fellow in the Humanities
2011—2012 Forum on Adaptations
Legendary Effects: The Women Saints of the Legenda aurea in England, 1260-1563
My dissertation studies the inflience, translations and literary adaptations of the Legenda aurea within England from the thirteenth century through the Reformation. As writers translated these Latin saints' lives into the vernacular, they addressed new audiences, specifically female audiences; in the vernacular, women readers could access the second most-copied, and the most-printed, text of the Middle Ages. These tales dramatize many controversial issues in medieval religion: religious violence, female sexuality, gender roles, the potential teaching authority of the laity, and changing mores of religious practice. Such hot-button issues made the stories exciting and popular, but also inspired a fair amount of rewriting and adaptation by English writers with varying agendas, ranging from promoting Franciscan piety to encouraging English national identity. These translators singled out women saints as the focus of their strategic revisions. The English Legenda aurea tradition suggests that translation, rather than simply transmitting a source, can produce major effects. Adaptations can enable authors to transform the cultural meaning of familiar stories, potentially conveying contradictory and subversive messages within material of impeccable orthodoxy.