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@Jonathan Jarrett: Many medieval stories in various genres (romance, saint’s life, chronicle et cetera) included actual or threatened sexual violations. Many romances and hagiographies use such an episode as a catalyst (Chaucer’s ‘Wife of Bath’s Tale’ and ‘Physician’s Tale’, the romances of Chrétien de Troyes, and so on), and the heroes of some romances, such as ‘Sir Degaré’, were conceived in rape. Stories featuring such violations often had a broad audience, but might well have a specifically female one. Classical stories, such as that of Philomela and Lucretia (both retold by Chaucer _Legend of Good Women_) were popular. Medieval storytelling was often exemplary and didactic: audiences might be encouraged to emulate the ‘patience’ of their virtuous predecessors. Many stories offered templates of women suffering violence and sexual threats and authors might retell stories containing graphical violence as examples of patience. Often a saint’s martyrdom is rooted in the protagonist (often female, sometimes male) refusing to marry (e.g. Saint Philomena), or resisting sexual seduction, and being threatened or punished in various ways. Saint Agatha had her breasts cut off; this story was popular in the Middle Ages and frequently illustrated. Sexual violation remains a staple of storytelling in our own time, often found in the hugely popular genre of detective fiction; much of this is written by women and, it is frequently shown (see this search, for instance; and cf. historical fiction), its audience is largely female. Corinne Saunders’s book ( remains a very useful starting point for understanding the topic in relation to medieval storytelling.
Toggle Commented Dec 6, 2014 on The Taymouth Hours at Medieval manuscripts blog
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Dec 6, 2014