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Guilt and Shame

Essays in French Literature, Thought and Visual Culture


Edited By Jenny Chamarette and Jenny Higgins

As theoretical positions and as affective experiences, the twin currents of contrition – guilt and shame – permeate literary discourse and figure prominently in discussions of ethics, history, sexuality and social hierarchy. This collection of essays, on French and francophone prose, poetry, drama, visual art, cinema and thought, assesses guilt and shame in relation to structures of social morality, language and self-expression, the thinking of trauma, and the ethics of forgiveness. The authors approach their subjects via close readings and comparative study, drawing on such thinkers as Adorno, Derrida, Jankélévitch and Irigaray. Through these they consider works ranging from the medieval Roman de la rose through to Gustave Moreau’s Symbolist painting, Giacometti’s sculpture, the films of Marina de Van and recent sub-Saharan African writing. The collection provides an état-présent of thinking on guilt and shame in French Studies, and is the first to assemble work on this topic ranging from the thirteenth to the twenty-first century. The book contains nine contributions in English and four in French.


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Mary Flannery The Shame of the Rose : A Paradox 51


Mary Flannery The Shame of the Rose : A Paradox It has generally been acknowledged that, in the Middle Ages, the only ‘good’ woman was a chaste woman. A medieval woman’s honour was largely deter- mined by her degree of sexual continence. In ascending order of chastity, the three honourable categories that women could occupy were those of wife, widow, and virgin.1 Although female saints, martyrs, and mystics were held up as examples of peerless women who had successfully managed to resist their innate, sinful female sexuality, religious women did not have a monopoly on virginity. Secular women were also expected to retain their virginity until marriage, and thereafter to remain the sole sexual property of their husbands. Since appropriate sexual behaviour was prized as the single greatest signifier of a ‘good woman’, ‘shame’ or modesty became central to this distinction, for it was shame that was the guardian of female honour. But this emphasis on honour through modesty, or on the preservation of virginity and on female chastity, had an ironic side effect: by making vir- ginity and chastity the essential criteria for female honour, it inextricably linked definitions of female honour to the potential for that honour’s 1 These three categories are listed in this order as the remedies for the sin of luxury in the thirteenth-century Summa Virtutum de Remediis Anime: ‘Continencie siue castitatis tres sunt partes: pudicicia coniugalis, continencia uidualis, integritas [uir- ginalis]’ (Summa Virtutum de Remediis Anime, ed. Siegfried Wenzel, The Chaucer Library (Athens, GA:...

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