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Affections of the Mind

Affections of the Mind

The Politics of Sacramental Marriage in Late Medieval English Literature

Emma Lipton

Affections of the Mind argues that a politicized negotiation of issues of authority in the institution of marriage can be found in late medieval England, where an emergent middle class of society used a sacramental model of marriage to exploit contradictions within medieval theology and social hierarchy. Emma Lipton traces the unprecedented popularity of marriage as a literary topic and the tensions between different models of marriage in the literature of the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by analyzing such texts as Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale, The Book of Margery Kempe, and the N-Town plays.

Affections of the Mind focuses on marriage as a fluid and contested category rather than one with a fixed meaning, and argues that the late medieval literature of sacramental marriage subverted aristocratic and clerical traditions of love and marriage in order to promote the values of the lay middle strata of society.

“This is an important and timely topic. Each chapter of Affections of the Mind has something new to say about the text it explores.“ —Lynn Staley, Harrington and Shirley Drake Professor of the Humanities and Medieval & Renaissance Studies, Colgate University

“Emma Lipton has written one of those rare books that that make one rethink an entire set of distinctions—between public and private spheres, between communal and individual identities, between secular and religious ideals, between authorized desire and subversive practices. From her opening sentence framing medieval institutions in terms of modern debates on gay marriage to her thoughtful and readable analyses of how literary works complicate our assumptions about both past and present, she presents arguments that will be of interest to historians, sociologists, theologians and anyone researching the histories of marriage, family, gender and sexuality.” —John M. Ganim, University of California, Riverside

ISBN: 978-0-268-03405-4
256 pages
Publication Year: 2007

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Emma Lipton is associate professor of English at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

“A model of marriage derived from Saint Augustine and codified in the 12th century held that the substance of the sacrament of marriage was the mutual love between the two members of the couple, rather than consummation. Lipton demonstrates how this model was used by an emergent lay middle strata of society in late medieval England to exploit inherent contradictions within medieval theology and social hierarchy, and to raise questions concerning both clerical and secular authority.” — Research Book News

“Lipton makes a case for viewing marriage as an idea and category of experience through which late-medieval people understood the world. The book as a whole offers interesting, often surprising, readings of literary works. Affections of the Mind reminds us to take a fresh look at the social significance that literary representations had in late-medieval England.” — Speculum: Journal of Medieval Studies

“. . . A rich account of the ways that late-medieval English texts negotiate competing discourses about marriage to re-imagine hierarchical models of social and religious authority and to articulate a coherent identity and ideology for the middle social strata. . . With its nuanced attention to the ways that the discursive constructions of marriage and the social values of the middle social strata inflect one another, Lipton’s work elegantly illustrates how any analysis of gender and sexuality can be made richer and more precise by considering social status as well.” — Medieval Feminist Forum

“The interpretive theme informing Emma Lipton’s book . . . is that ‘marriage is a deeply political institution.’ The strength and interest of Lipton’s study rest in the nearly universal appeal of marriage, however practiced, as a trope (more precisely, a synecdoche) for the structure of relations and affections in the larger society; celebrated or deplored, marriage looks like a microcosm ready-made for social analysis, satire, and utopian or dystopian critique.” — Journal of English and Germanic Philology

“The strength of Affections of the Mind is in Lipton’s ability to apply the medieval arguments about marriage to literary texts and to contextualize this analysis within the social and economic changes of late medieval England. As such, it provides the reader with a solid grounding in the marriage debates as well as with individual readings of texts both widely known and more obscure. The book is a fine example of the interplay between history and literature, one that can be a model for future scholarship.” — Sixteenth Century Journal

“In a series of finely calibrated close readings of Middle English and Anglo-Norman texts, Lipton finds that late medieval texts used traditional theory in ways that emphasized both the limitations and flexibilities of companionate marriage. . . . Lipton situates marriage within larger ecclesiastical and literary debates concerning sexuality, companionship, and power and posits that marriage ‘offered a microcosmic alternative vision for a broader social structure that worked to level the hierarchy of the three estates.’” — Modern Philology

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Affections of the Mind

The Politics of Sacramental Marriage in Late Medieval English Literature

Emma Lipton

 Affections of the Mind: The Politics of Sacramental Marriage in Late Medieval English Literature
Paper Edition

Affections of the Mind argues that a politicized negotiation of issues of authority in the institution of marriage can be found in late medieval England, where an emergent middle class of society used a sacramental model of marriage to exploit contradictions within medieval theology and social hierarchy. Emma Lipton traces the unprecedented popularity of marriage as a literary topic and the tensions between different models of marriage in the literature of the later fourteenth and fifteenth centuries by analyzing such texts as Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale, The Book of Margery Kempe, and the N-Town plays.

Affections of the Mind focuses on marriage as a fluid and contested category rather than one with a fixed meaning, and argues that the late medieval literature of sacramental marriage subverted aristocratic and clerical traditions of love and marriage in order to promote the values of the lay middle strata of society.

“This is an important and timely topic. Each chapter of Affections of the Mind has something new to say about the text it explores.“ —Lynn Staley, Harrington and Shirley Drake Professor of the Humanities and Medieval & Renaissance Studies, Colgate University

“Emma Lipton has written one of those rare books that that make one rethink an entire set of distinctions—between public and private spheres, between communal and individual identities, between secular and religious ideals, between authorized desire and subversive practices. From her opening sentence framing medieval institutions in terms of modern debates on gay marriage to her thoughtful and readable analyses of how literary works complicate our assumptions about both past and present, she presents arguments that will be of interest to historians, sociologists, theologians and anyone researching the histories of marriage, family, gender and sexuality.” —John M. Ganim, University of California, Riverside

ISBN: 978-0-268-03405-4

256 pages

“A model of marriage derived from Saint Augustine and codified in the 12th century held that the substance of the sacrament of marriage was the mutual love between the two members of the couple, rather than consummation. Lipton demonstrates how this model was used by an emergent lay middle strata of society in late medieval England to exploit inherent contradictions within medieval theology and social hierarchy, and to raise questions concerning both clerical and secular authority.” — Research Book News

“Lipton makes a case for viewing marriage as an idea and category of experience through which late-medieval people understood the world. The book as a whole offers interesting, often surprising, readings of literary works. Affections of the Mind reminds us to take a fresh look at the social significance that literary representations had in late-medieval England.” — Speculum: Journal of Medieval Studies

“. . . A rich account of the ways that late-medieval English texts negotiate competing discourses about marriage to re-imagine hierarchical models of social and religious authority and to articulate a coherent identity and ideology for the middle social strata. . . With its nuanced attention to the ways that the discursive constructions of marriage and the social values of the middle social strata inflect one another, Lipton’s work elegantly illustrates how any analysis of gender and sexuality can be made richer and more precise by considering social status as well.” — Medieval Feminist Forum

“The interpretive theme informing Emma Lipton’s book . . . is that ‘marriage is a deeply political institution.’ The strength and interest of Lipton’s study rest in the nearly universal appeal of marriage, however practiced, as a trope (more precisely, a synecdoche) for the structure of relations and affections in the larger society; celebrated or deplored, marriage looks like a microcosm ready-made for social analysis, satire, and utopian or dystopian critique.” — Journal of English and Germanic Philology

“The strength of Affections of the Mind is in Lipton’s ability to apply the medieval arguments about marriage to literary texts and to contextualize this analysis within the social and economic changes of late medieval England. As such, it provides the reader with a solid grounding in the marriage debates as well as with individual readings of texts both widely known and more obscure. The book is a fine example of the interplay between history and literature, one that can be a model for future scholarship.” — Sixteenth Century Journal

“In a series of finely calibrated close readings of Middle English and Anglo-Norman texts, Lipton finds that late medieval texts used traditional theory in ways that emphasized both the limitations and flexibilities of companionate marriage. . . . Lipton situates marriage within larger ecclesiastical and literary debates concerning sexuality, companionship, and power and posits that marriage ‘offered a microcosmic alternative vision for a broader social structure that worked to level the hierarchy of the three estates.’” — Modern Philology