Dr. Diane Krantz
English Class guest presentation
Weber State U.
Fall Semester, 1998
PROBLEMATIZING JULIAN OF NORWICH
I call this lesson problematizing Julian for two reasons: I will call into question what your book says about Julian and I will present a famous image in Julian's text that your text does not include.
Critical works on Julian tend naturally to address her life, itself a source of much debate. Critics argue about Julian's education, her life before her enclosure, the date of her enclosure, and what reading influenced her work.
Critical arguments about Julian's biography occur because the only things known about her are those derived from her own texts or what can be deduced from wills of the period or from Margery Kemp's record of her visit paid to Julian. Donald Parbury's 1960 book, Lady Julian of Carrow and Norwich, offers a good example of the tenuous nature of some deductions; his very title indicates that he has conflated the lives of two different recluses to produce a work on Julian of Norwich. This confusion of mystics continued in the scholarship until 1973, the 600th anniversary of Julian's revelations, when the Julian of Norwich Celebration Committee published a small book including an essay which established that Julian of Norwich and Dame Julian Lampyt at Carrow Priory were two different people (6-7).
The biographical material on Julian in the introduction in your book (The Norton Anthology of British Literature, vol. 1) was written by two priests. When Edmund Colledge and James Walsh published their critical version of Julian's Long and Short Texts, including critical apparatus, in 1978, they made some of the largest claims for Julian and her texts ever advanced. They believed that she entered religious life in her teens, sometime around the year 1360, and was still there in 1393 when she finished editing and revising the Long Text. Colledge and Walsh claim that from her youth Julian show knowledge of Latin, the Scriptures, and the liberal arts, and that she must have been permitted to read widely in Latin and the vernacular spiritual classics (44). Before writing the Short Text, assert Colledge and Walsh, she knew the whole Vulgate Bible, especially the four Gospels, the Pauline and Johannine Epistles, Hebrews, the Psalms, the book of Wisdom, and Deutero-Isaiah (43). She shows influence in her writing from St. Bonaventure, St. Anselm, Rolle, Suso, the Ancrene Riwle, and the Harrowing of Hell. She quotes Augustine, Scripture, St. Bernard, "The Chastising of God's Children," "Qui Habit," "Bonum est," and possibly "The Cloud of Unknowing." (40-43). She seems to have read Chaucer's Boece (40).
Nicole Marzac-Holland adds to this increasingly definitive picture by presenting an even more precise chronology for Julian. She posits that Julian was born on St. Cecilia's day, November 22, 1342, that she asked for three wounds on her birthday or during Holy Week in 1357, that she became an anchoress on Trinity Sunday 1375, that she received some form of enlightenment in February of 1393 when she began writing the Long Text, and that she finished the Text in 1413 (7-10). She figures out all this from about 3 references in Julian's Short Text.
In 1982 Brant Pelphrey's Love was His Meaning: The Theology and Mysticism of Julian of Norwich challenged many of the conclusions previously reached about Julian's life. Pelphrey believes that Julian was an uneducated laywoman who became an anchoress after her visions. He concludes that she could have produced the text as it stands by means of a scribe, and he points out that historical evidence would be weighed against her having received much education (31). Pelphrey rejects any but popular influences on Julian since, except for a brief quotation in English from St. Gregory's Life of St. Benedict, she has no direct extra-Biblical citations from any source (16). In an appendix in which he includes a detailed argument, Pelphrey addresses the question of whether Julian knew the Vulgate, since although her writings show extensive use of Biblical themes and teachings, there is no direct evidence that she read the Bible herself. In fact, her one quotation is a misquote, conflating two bible references. Again Pelphrey maintains that her reading of the Bible is not historically probable, because not even many priests, let alone a laywoman, had copies of the Bible (remember these are handwritten and rare).
In his collection of essays entitled An Introduction to the Medieval Mystics of Europe (1984), Paul Szarmach includes a chapter by Ritamary Bradley on Julian as writer and mystic. Bradley agrees with Pelphrey that Julian did not have Latin models for her language but drew directly on the Scriptures and on the "everyday language of Norwich" (199). You've seen this in her fishy descriptions of the blood oozing from Christ's head and the cloth metaphor is to describe his dying. Her short biography of Julian is the truest to Julian's own accounts that I have seen. .
Finally, a short article by Joan Hyme advances the theory that Julian was a lay woman who perhaps had lost husband and children in the plague which hit Norwich in 1361 when she would have been nineteen years old. While the theory is tempting to accept, in view of Julian's compassion for and identification with all her "even-Chrystians," especially mothers, her own remark about serving Christ in her youth seems to point more to an early religious life than to life as a secular. I feel that the practical claims of Pelphrey and the modest claims of Bradley are the most useful of any made for Julian criticism.
What made her write the way she did: words of comfort
In and out of the anchorhold, Julian's life spanned over half of the most tumultuous years in English history. Barbara Tuchmann begins her well-known description of the period by writing: "The Fourteenth Century suffered so many strange and great perils and adversities that its disorders cannot be traced to any one cause" (Tuchman, xiii). In 1305, the Pope moved from Rome to Avignon, causing uneasiness in the Church. English qualms about the Pope's living in enemy country were heightened by the Hundred Years' War between England and France, which lasted from 1337-1453. The English didn't trust a Pope living in France. Besides suffering disruptions from the deaths due to war, society was further and more seriously destabilized by the Black Death, which occurred in England first in 1348, and in subsequent outbreaks in 1360 and in 1374. Hence, Julian was born during the Hundred Years' War, grew up under the Avignon Papacy which, shortly after her visions, degenerated into the Great Schism with two popes, and, before she died, further degenerated into the three-fold papacy. She was only six or seven years old when the plague first hit England and was still in her teens when it struck a second time. Her visions occurred a year before the final outbreak of the Black Death. Finally, between the time of her visions and the writing of the Long Text, Julian could have witnessed the Peasants' Revolt and probably did witness the punishment of some of those involved.
This summary of the events of the period illustrates that the two institutions, the Church and the State, which would ordinarily have been responsible for order and consolation during the terrible years of the Black Death, were themselves under siege: the one from schism, the other from war. Individuals would have needed to find resources within themselves if they were to survive, even psychologically, the daily traumas of what Tuchman calls in her title "The Calamitous Fourteenth Century."
Just as people dream most vividly about things that cause them great anxiety, so, within the contexts of specific religious convictions, they experience visions as responses to crises. In fact the prophets of the Old Testament experienced punitive visions when times were good for the people and the people became immersed in secular concerns and material gain. In times of great crisis they experienced visions of God's love and consolation. Julian's visions fit into the latter category.
Her most celebrated image
Julian's most celebrated image is not found in the Short Text: the text that records her immediate memory of her visions. Nor is it mentioned in the list of chapters at the beginning of the Long Text. This indicates to scholars that Julian thought a long time about her visions, even after beginning the Long Text, before she could put into words the idea inspired by her showings that Jesus loves us as a mother. When she finally does produce the image, it almost overwhelms all that has been written beforehand. In fact, the two long additions to her long text, written when the text itself was well underway, triple the length of the text.
In Chapter 52 of the Long Text Julian finally comes up with the language of the motherhood of God. She says: (C & W 546). Julian relates this image of Jesus as mother to his containment of us. This containment is signaled for me by the word "kynd" which means nature or species but is also related to semen and sexual organs.
In Chapters 57-63 of her Long Text, those which comprise the meditations on her fourteenth revelation where her teachings on Jesus as Mother are found, Julian uses the word "kynd," or one of its forms, sixty-seven times. Forty-three of the passages in which the word occurs are heavy with references to our being enclosed in God, our increasing in God, our being born from God, our being one with God. All of these are images of sexuality and maternity, the latter also a sexual concept. In at least seventeen of its appearances, the word is ambiguous and seems to include a sexual meaning. In contrast to the chapters on the motherhood of Jesus, where the word occurs on the average of nine times per chapter, "kynd" appears only twice in the chapter immediately preceding Revelation Fourteen, both times modifying the word "soul" in an unambiguous manner. It occurs only once in the chapter immediately following the chapters on Jesus as Mother, and there only in a line which may belong to the preceding chapter. It appears infrequently in all of the other chapters. In the Jesus as Mother chapters, Julian seems to use the word "kynd" almost obsessively. Even when the word refers to Julian's insistence on the mercy of God, Lichtman contends that this insistence on God's mercy is itself associated with the notion of the feminine nature of God (1991, 15).
An example which shows the connection of "kynd" to gestation occurs when Julian writes:
We be closyd in the fader, and we be closyd in the son, and we are closyd in the holy gost. And the fader is beclosyd in us, the son is beclosyd in us, and the holy gost is beclosyd in us, all myght, alle wysdom and all goodnesse, one god, one lorde. And oure feyth is a vertu that comyth of oure kynde substannce in to our sensuall soul by the holy gost, in which vertu alle oure vertures comyn to us. (563-64. 23-29)
The image of complex mutual enclosure once again surfaces, and the womb imagery is startling in a passage in which she uses both the word "kynde" and the notion of our sensual nature. Such juxtaposition suggests that Julian is stressing "kynde" not just as our human nature, but "kynde" as our sexed nature, and that our faith comes from a feminine relationship to the Trinity, a relationship which, like that of Jesus to the Father and of Mary to Jesus, depends on our nurturing God within.
Immediately prior to the passage quoted above, Julian has described Jesus, the mid-person of the Trinity, as he who would be the ground and head of "this feyer kynde out of whom we be all come, in whom we be alle enclosyd, in to whom we shall all goo" (557-58). While kynd can mean nature in this context, and even while the last phrase creates the paradoxical image of returning to a place in which we are already enclosed, the language of the mother-god, of her bearing and birthing of a child, is strongly suggested by the words "out of whom" and "enclosyd."
Now while Julian's celebration of Jesus' role as mother, is not unique in medieval theology, it has ramifications for fourteenth century attitudes toward sexuality that make it her personal signature in the domain of theology typically ruled by men. She writes:
And by the endless entent and assent and the full accorde of all the trynyte, the myd person wolde be grounde and hed of this feyer kynde out of whom we be all come, in whom we be all enclosyd, in to whom we shall all goo, in hym fyndyng oure full hevyn in everlastyng joy by the forseyeng purpose of all the blessyd trynyte fro without begynnyng. For or that he made us he lovyd us, and when we were made we lovyd hym; and this is a love maede of the kyndly substanncyall goodnesse of the holy gost. And thus is mannys soule mede of god, and in the same poynte knyte to god. (557-8.30-40)
Jesus' open side becomes the womb or "kynde" out of which the Church is born. He is also grounded, related to earth, by the human body he takes from a human mother, and is head of our "kynd" and seat of wisdom by the Divine nature he receives from his heavenly Father. Focus on the nature of Christ seems to allow and encourage Julian's repetitious use of "kynd," although she could have used "nature" had she wanted a less nuanced word. By emphasizing the earthiness of Jesus, Julian suggests association between the word "kynd" and an earthy part of the woman, her womb.
What the image reveals about Julian
Julian, searching for the most comforting image of Christ that she can give to those seeking her spiritual counsel, eventually interprets her own visions in terms of the feminine and all the attributes given to it and to the maternal by misogynistic writers of her time. If you think of the misogynistic literature that inspired the Wife of Bath's prologue, of women as unreasonable (Julian's theological writing is the epitome of logic), of women as sensual and the cause of sexual sin in men (her Jesus is continually connected to the sensual), of the pregnant body as repulsive (Jesus is constantly pictured as pregnant with the saved and as giving birth) her teaching is astonishing. It must have brought great comfort to women in her time.
Again what your book omits are among her most comforting words. Worried by the thought that some people will land in hell, Julian questions Jesus on how she can make peace with this. She indicates that his answer has to do with a great secret at the end of time about which she cannot say more. In the meantime however we are to be trustful because as Jesus says to her: "I may make all things well,and I can make all things well, and I shall make all things well, and I will make all things well, and you will see that all manner of thing shall be well." She also learns the final lesson of her visions (Norton, p 366 top).
Although anthologies of English literature have just within the past five years
included the words of Julian, she has been known and admired for her positive
view of history since William Caxton printed her work in the late 15th century.
In particular, T. S. Eliot found her words to be a comforting answer to the
disillusionment with words suffered by many artists after WWI and the disillusionment
with history suffered after WWII. In his Four quartets Eliot writes (See Norton
Anthology of British Literature, Vol 2, 2393-5).