Saints, Sex, and Species: Ecology and Sexuality in French Hagiography from the Late Twelfth and Early Thirteenth Centuries

Ehrlich, Monica, French - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Ogden, Amy, Department of French Language and Literatures, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the intersection of ecology and sexuality in French saints’ Lives about hermits from the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, showing how individuals can transform their identities by changing the way they live within their environments. Each chapter centers on a different saint’s Life (Gilles, Marie l’Égyptienne, Benoît) and takes as its focus different ecological categories (human, animal, vegetal, and mineral) and sexual topoi (marriage, procreation, prostitution, objectification of the female body, and homosociality). I reread these texts using gender, ecocritical, animal, and posthuman theory to devise my own theoretical concepts (‘the homo sapiens matrix’, ‘ecomystical union’, and ‘ecohomosocial triangles’). These hermit-saints, in their eremitism and monasticism, espouse humble environmental ethics based on non-violent and sustainable living practices. They learn how to have better relationships with God and the surrounding communities by realizing their own animality. They protest the dominant practices of their era, encourage others to have more respect for the natural world, and inspire others to change their ways. Rather than simply pointing to the inequality inherent in society, my dissertation goes the next step in showing how ecology can help individuals to change the status quo. Because they lived in close proximity to the natural world, medieval thinkers were cognizant of the role played by ecology in shaping human identity, and in this way, their writings can help us to better nuance contemporary theory by showing how the environment affects human beings and not just the other way around. In addition to my analyses of these saints’ Lives, I also provide in the appendix a critical edition of Wauchier de Denain’s La Vie de saint Benoît, a previously unedited text.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Medieval French Literature, Hagiography, Ecocriticism, Gender Studies, Guillaume de Berneville, La Vie de saint Gilles, La Vie de sainte Marie l'Égyptienne, Wauchier de Denain, La Vie de saint Benoît
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