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LHMP #157 Gaunt 1996 Straight Minds/’Queer’ Wishes in Old French Hagiography: La Vie de Sainte Euprosine

Full citation: 

Gaunt, Simon. 1996. “Straight Minds/’Queer’ Wishes in Old French Hagiography: La Vie de Sainte Euprosine” in Premodern Sexualities ed. by Louise Fradenburg & Carla Freccero. Routledge, New York. ISBN 0-415-91258-X

Publication summary: 


This is a collection of papers looking at issues in the historiography of sexuality, that is: how to study sexuality in historic contexts with consideration of the theoretical frameworks being used. In general, the approach is to dismantle the concepts of universals and essences, by which “history” has been used to define and persecute “others.” The papers are very theory-focused around how the study of the “other” points out the narrow and distorted picture of history in the mainstream tradition. One feature that these papers challenge is a clear dichotomy between a pre-modern understanding of sexuality as “acts” versus a modern understanding as “identity”. The papers cover not only queer sexuality by a broader variety of sexualized themes in history.  As usual with general collections like this, I’ve selected the papers that speak to lesbian-like themes, but in this case I’ve included on with a male focus that provides an interesting counterpoint on issues of gender identity.

Gaunt 1996 “Straight Minds/’Queer’ Wishes in Old French Hagiography: La Vie de Sainte Euprosine”

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This is an examination of gender and sexuality in a “transvestite saint” legend from France. Saint Euphrosine wanted to remain a virgin and so ran away from home. To help avoid being tracked down by her father, rather than entering a convent, she disguised herself as a man and claimed to be a eunuch to enter a monastery. Sight of her inflames the lusts of the monks such that the head of the monastery requires her to live secluded to prevent sexual temptation. The article focuses both on Euphrosine’s “erotic” relationships with Jesus and the potentially homoerotic reaction of the monks to the disguised Euphrosine.  The question is left open whether this desire is forbidden heterosexual desire (because Euphrosine is “really a woman”) or forbidden homosexual desire, based on surface appearances. One of the conclusions is that even when not overtly female, female saints are still sexualized in medieval literature.

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