Marina Warner

Two for the price of one

I’ve read Marina Warner for a long time. These two books of hers are sort of special to me.

BTW – Usual usual, I don’t agree with the mainstream history stuff but that does Not take away from her work.

 

This unique study of the cult of the Virgin Mary offers a way of thinking about the interrelations of Catholicism and ideas of ideal femininity over the longue duree. An ambitious history of the changing symbolism of the Mother of God, Alone of All Her Sex holds up to the light different emphases occurring at different times, and highlights that the apparent archetype of a magna mater is constantly in play with social and historical conditions and values. Marina Warner’s interesting perspective was forged in the aftermath of significant postwar developments in history, anthropology, and feminism and the book inspired fierce debates when it was first published in 1976. Alone of All Her Sex is also an emotive, personal statement, arising from Warner’s own upbringing as a Catholic. It picks up on classic accounts such as Mary MacCarthy’s Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood and Antonia White’s Frost in May, as well as the author’s own experiences at a Catholic boarding school. Highly controversial in conservative quarters, the book’s arguments were welcomed and recognised by many readers who shared Warner’s experiences. In this new edition, Marina Warner has written a new preface which reviews the book in the light of the current debate about secularism, faith, nations, and social identities. She takes issue with her original mistaken conclusion that the modern age would see the cult of Mary fade away and revises it in the light of recent popes’ enthusiasm for the Mother of God, a fresh wave of visions and revelations, a new generation of female saints, and the reorientation of theological approaches to the woman question.

 

And –

 

Joan has a unique role in Western imagination – she is one of the few true female heroes. Marina Warner uses her superb historical and literary skills to move beyond conventional biography and to capture the essence of “Joan of Arc”, both as she lived in her own time and as she has ‘grown’ in the human imagination over the five centuries since her death. She has examined the court documents from Joan of Arc’s 1431 Inquisition trial for heresy and woven the facts together with an analysis of the histories, biographies, plays, and paintings and sculptures that have appeared over time to honor this heroine and symbol of France’s nationhood. Warner shows how the few facts that are known about the woman Joan have been shaped to suit the aims of those who have chosen her as their hero. This book places Joan in the context of the mythology of the female hero and takes note of her historical antecedents, both pagan and Christian and the role she has played up to the present as the embodiment of an ideal, whether as Amazon, saint, child of nature, or personification of virtue.

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