The Garden as Woman's Space in Twelfth and Thirteenth Century Literature - Studies in Medieval Literature S. No. 27 (Hardback)Elizabeth A. Augspach (author)
Hardback 229 Pages / Published: 30/09/2004
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The purpose of this study is to examine a few literary gardens of romance from the close of the 12th to the first half of the 13th century in light of the development of the figure of the enclosed garden as a female space that is not owned by a man, but rather by the woman who inhabits it. Preface Western literature begins with a tale about a garden, the Garden of Eden in chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis. Unlike the Graeco-Roman myth of Pandora, which blames all human misfortunes on a woman's curiosity, the Eden story in Genesis at least has the grace to divide the blame between a man and a woman for human misery and the loss of the Garden of Eden. The curious thing about the Eden narrative, in fact, is that the man comes off the worse. When God questions Adam in the garden, asking him whether he has eaten the forbidden fruit, Adam boorishly blames Eve -- and God himself -- for the act, telling him it was the fault of "the woman you put here with me..." (Gen. 3.12). Since omniscience is one of the Deity's attributes, one can safely assume that God's query was not for the sake of gaining information.In questioning Adam, he was, rather, acting the role of a benevolent father, who seeks first to convince an errant child to acknowledge responsibility for a misdeed and thereafter to maturely accept its consequences. In contrast with Adam's immaturity and petulance in blaming everyone but himself, Genesis offers Eve's simple assertion that she (foolishly) had been seduced by the snake's lying offer (Gen. 3.13). Her quiet acceptance of responsibility makes Eve the hero of the narrative and, one might suggest, provides her and her daughters with a means of eventually reclaiming some form of the lost Garden of Eden. The project, however, would require several centuries. In her charming, challenging book, Hortus Inversus: Domineering Ladies and their Medieval Gardens, Elizabeth A. Augspach first explains how the Church fathers and the medieval biblical exegetes took Adam's part, blaming Eve for tempting Adam to sin and, in the process, losing Eden for all their descendants. The purpose of Augspach's book, however, is not to provide a survey of medieval misogyny. Rather, her concern is to describe the evolution of the hortus inversus, the garden turned inside-out.Though medieval exegesis blamed Eve and her daughters for the loss of Eden, Augspach points out that women never gave up possession of the magic place. The focus of her study is the varied ways in which the garden was associated with women. She describes how, in 12th and 13th century medieval literature, the garden eventually became the woman's space and place and how, in various transmutations, it continues to be so today. Augspach begins her study by surveying the pre-Christian myths about earth-women / earth-mothers like Demeter and Gaia. She then considers the cult of the Virgin Mary in the Middle Ages, explaining how biblical imagery (in particular from the Song of Solomon) and liturgical texts associated Mary with the "hortus conclusus" or enclosed garden. Just as the medieval liturgy referred to Jesus as the Second Adam, who repaired the sins of Adam and his descendants, Mary came to be called the Second Eve, whose life and whose access to her divine Son provide humanity with a like service. In addition to biblical studies, sermons, and liturgy, the life and miracles of the Virgin were also celebrated in the vernacular literatures.Augspach devotes a chapter of her book to the study of the early 13th-century Castilian Milagros de Nuestra Senora of Gonzalo de Berceo. Berceo anchors his Milagros on the wonderful garden that he places at the introduction of his work. The garden itself is a manifestation of the power and beauty of the Virgin, who is not otherwise described. Augspach continues her consideration of gardens in medieval narratives by discussing tales about other gardens that resemble the ones associated with Mary: Emelye's garden in Chaucer's Knight's Tale, for example, and the garden in the Legend of Rodrigo. The gardens in these tales are places where a woman's virtue is preserved and can flourish. Chapter 3 describes another kind of woman and another kind of garden. These are the wild women, the female magicians, and the "dark" women of myth and fable who menace and subvert the social order. These women's gardens, however, serve the same functions as the Virgin's garden and the garden of the idealized female figure of romance.That is, each is a safe place, an enclosed and protected garden where the woman can safely pursue her interests and fulfill her needs, a place where she can be her best (or perhaps her worst) self. Secret gardens in these narratives offer women the opportunity to enjoy private pleasures. They are places where (as in Marie de France's lai, Guigemar) women can elude constant male supervision and surveillance or where (as in Chaucer's Merchant's Tale) women can enjoy the erotic autonomy that is forbidden them outside the garden. The women in such narratives can also be sorceresses whose enchanted gardens are besieged by knight-heroes intent on subjugating or transforming them (as in Chretien de Troyes' Erec et Enide). Augspach concludes chapter 3 with a surprising comparison of the Virgin Mary and Morgan Le Fay, the sorceress of the Arthurian romances. Her purpose, however, is to argue that both women are projections of the same principle.Both operate outside natural conventions, neither is subject to common rules and laws, and both inhabit gardens that seem to be extensions of themselves - which seem, in fact, to be themselves - and that are governed by magical and supernatural powers. It has been suggested, perhaps facetiously, that a woman could have been the author of the Garden of Eden story in Genesis. Whoever the author of that narrative might be, s/he has crafted a tale whose self-possessed heroine endlessly inhabits and teases our imaginations. For although Eve and Adam were expelled from the Garden of Eden, Eve and her daughters have continued to rule their secret, closed, power-charged, magic gardens in myth, romance, and modern narratives. Because of its careful scholarship and the author's firm command of several areas of research - women's studies, medieval literature, biblical exegesis, liturgy, patristic scholarship, and ancient myth - Elizabeth Augspach's book will appeal to a wide range of readers. One is constantly surprised, in reading the book, at the range of the author's interests and at her ability to make connections between what, at first glance, appear to be unrelated materials.Much of the pleasure in reading the book is her style: she writes with the grace and intensity of someone who has been haunted by her subject. William E. Coleman Professor of Comparative Literature, English, and Medieval Studies The Graduate Center, City University of New York
Publisher: The Edwin Mellen Press Ltd
Number of pages: 229
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