Patricia Dailey, Promised Bodies

In Christianity, the body is a potentially transformative vehicle, and the writings of Hadewijch of Brabant, a thirteenth-century beguine, engage with this tradition in ways both singular to her mysticism and indicative of her theological milieu. This study links the embodied poetics of Hadewijch’s visions and letters to the work of such mystics and visionaries as Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, and Marguerite of Oingt. It introduces new criteria for re-assessing the style, language, interpretative practices, forms of literacy, and uses of textuality in women’s mystical texts.

“Promised Bodies is a contribution at once to the study of medieval Christian mystical theology and to that of medieval women's religious writing. These two fields are adjacent and have been in dialogue for more than a century, yet they have never engaged with the intellectual energy that Patricia Dailey brings to bear on them here.”

-- Nicholas Watson, Harvard University


“Both learned and delightful, both sweeping and precise, Promised Bodies sets a new standard for the study of the mystical tradition in the Western Middle Ages. Reading across linguistic, temporal, and institutional boundaries, Patricia Dailey provides a compelling new perspective on the eternally perplexing nature of embodiment and its formal incarnation in writing.”

-- Bruce Holsinger, University of Virginia


“Patricia Dailey's Promised Bodies is a truly remarkable study that will transform the way we read and teach medieval mystical texts. Analyzing the thirteenth-century Middle Dutch writings of the gifted mystic Hadewijch and placing her writings in the context of Pauline and Augustinian conceptions of the body as a "twofold entity" of considerable complexity and their medieval reception, it works out the problem of the body in mystical writing that has plagued literary scholars since they first took on such texts as objects of study in the mid-twentieth century. Integrating her deep knowledge of medieval theology and philosophy, Dailey not only explains why the use of bodily metaphors in the description of mystical experience can be so perplexing, she also makes sense of them. In so doing, she offers us a new means of reading women's mysticism that allows us to appreciate the sophistication of these texts without compartmentalizing them as "merely" somatic and irrational and therefore feminine and incidental.”

-- Sara Poor, Princeton University