Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)
Department of English
Eve (Biblical figure)--In literature; Christian literature; English (Middle); Women in literature
In focusing on the negative patristic attitudes about Eve apparent in medieval England, most scholarship has neglected an alternate, more positive view of Eve rooted in traditional apocryphal stories, where Eve often appears as a suitable role model for mortal women. These two threads of literary tradition merge in the popular Middle English legends, dramatic productions, poems, and vernacular sermons of the late Middle Ages. The apocryphal Latin tales of the Life of Adam and Eve and the Harrowing of Hell became a part of the English vernacular literary heritage, as we see in the Old English Genesis A and B paraphrases. Each generation reinvented the stories, taking ownership of their style and themes, and adapting them for its own purposes. The portraits of Eve that emerge in vernacular tales from the Auchinleck or Vernon Manuscripts, cycle dramas, and sermons synthesize the authorized biblical account of the Fall with popular elements from the apocryphal elaborations to create a collage of sympathetic portraits of the first humans. Furthermore, late fourteenth-century debate literature and popular tales show an emerging complexity in portrayals of Eve and all women. Rather than limiting the story of Eve to that of her fall, apocryphal material demonstrates how the first humans coped with their fallen state and anticipated ultimate redemption. Consistent themes of familial tenderness, penance, forgiveness, and restoration palliate our view of Eve's guilt and even show the fortunate consequences of her fall as she becomes the mother of all, including even Jesus Christ. Eve's representation as an exemplary wife, mother, and author of her own story makes her a prototype for other virtuous women. Vernacular homilies, as well, incorporate the positive represesntations of Adam and Eve from the apocryphal tales as background, so that Adam and Eve are praised as models for all their descendants to emulate. As one of Mirk's sermons says, "Thus, good men, know þat Adam and Eue wern boþe holy or þay deydyn, and þoghten on deþe y[n]wardly, and laburt boþe bysely; and chastest hor body resnably; and so most all þat comen of þom."
Sorenson, Ellen B., "Redeeming Eve : a model woman in middle English vernacular literature" (2008). Graduate Research Theses & Dissertations. 4658.
xxv, 359 pages
Northern Illinois University
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