Astudiaeth drylwyr o groes-ddweud a pharadocs yn y modd yr adlewyrchir ffigur y Forwyn Fair mewn testunau diwinyddol, athronyddol a llenyddol canoloesol, gyda llyfryddiaeth gynhwysfawr a nodiadau manwl.
A thorough study of the contradictions and paradoxes found in the reflections of the figure of the Virgin Mary in medieval theological, philosophical and literary texts, with a comprehensive bibliography and detailed notes.
Research on the nature and meaning of representations of the Virgin Mary, and their evolution over time, has moved on since Marina Warner published Alone of all her Sex in 1976, but Teresa Reeds debt to that pioneering study of the Virgin Mary is both implicit and acknowledged. Shadows of Mary is able to take for granted earlier groundwork and draw on a wealth of secondary literature to inform her own work, which focuses more closely not only on the Virgin in the Middle Ages but on a small selection of English texts. This is a slim but dense volume, informed not only by empiric research over the last decades but also on the more theoretical approaches which have emerged.
At the core of this book lies the problem which Mary posed for the medieval Christian church and for the culture it imposed on secular society. Just as the New Testament and Christianity could be contrasted with the Old Testament and Judaism, so Mary represented the opposite pole to the sinful Eve. If Eve represented perceived negative aspects of woman, notably sexuality, temptation and sinfulness, Mary was offered a more positive image of purity and perfection. But her image and her role as both virgin and mother of Christ created endless problems and paradoxes for theologians and laity alike in terms of defining the limits of fleshliness and sanctity. Both Eve and Mary, on closer inspection, become less polarised.
Reed provides a detailed analysis of key female characters in Old and Middle English literature: Chaucers Constance (in his Man of Laws Tale) and the inevitable Wife of Bath, at the other extreme the Pearl Maiden and St Margaret of Antioch (the latter paradoxically the patron saint of parturient women thanks to her own delivery in bursting through the sides of the dragon sent to swallow her), and finally, perhaps the most complex example, the shadowy persona of Trotula, supposed female author of a medical text. Whilst concentrating on this small cast of characters, Reed makes use of a far wider range of contemporary writings to illuminate them. Reference is also made to visual representations, and the book could have benefited from more illustrations than the single, albeit crucial, image on the cover.
Not all this material is new: earlier versions of half the chapters have appeared in journals and may be familiar to the target audience of those working in gender and medieval studies. A full bibliography is provided, usefully divided into primary and secondary sources, and a rather inadequate index.
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgement should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddior adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.