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Julian, God, and the Art of Storytelling: A Narrative Analysis of the Works of Julian of Norwich
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of language studies. (UGPS)ORCID iD: 0000-0001-6368-9173
2016 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This study offers a narrative comparison of A Vision Showed to a Devout Woman and A Revelation of Love, the two texts created by the first known English woman writer, Julian of Norwich (c. 1343 – c. 1416). It focuses Julian as a storyteller rather than as a theologian, mystic or visionary, concentrating particular on her narrative strategies, that is, on the strategic use of formal narrative features and the changes in these between Vision and Revelation. This dissertation therefore examines Vision and Revelation in terms of three narrative features: plot, characterization and perspective or point of view (termed ‘focalization’ here). These three narrative features are brought into dialogue with Julian’s theology.

Three analytical angles help shed more light on Julian’s innovative use of these structures in her works: modern narratology, Middle English literary theory and practice, and the texts’ own literary concepts and self-referential comments. Two central narratological methods are used throughout. The first is to make a distinction between narrator Julian, who tells about the events, and character Julian, who experiences the events. The second is distinguishing several hermeneutic layers or levels of signification in a narrative. Following narratologist Mieke Bal, this discussion distinguishes between fabula (the raw material), story (the content of the text) and text (the linguistic construct).

On the basis of this exploration, this study argues that Revelation includes, expands and transforms the narrative structures of Vision, and thereby consciously draws more attention to the structures themselves. At the same time, however, within Revelation a similar narrative reshaping can be seen as between Vision and Revelation. That is, Revelation reshapes its own new narrative structures, in order to hint at God’s greater structure and envelop its own in His. This greatest structure, however, is only glimpsed. As regards these narrative structures, this study argues that linear finite narrative desire driving the plot of Vision is taken up into an endless, greater narrative desire in Revelation, creating a circular plot. At the same time, narrator Julian constructs an omnitemporal, non-sequential plot. Moreover, this analysis shows that the focalization already found in Vision is made more demonstrative in Revelation, while the narrator directs this gaze more towards the apophatic and what is always hidden. Finally, this study explores how many of the characters from Vision are made twofold in Revelation, while Revelation at the same time foreshadows the union this doubleness will achieve at the end of time. Revelation, in short, utilizes Vision’s structures and its own to implode structure.

 Julian’s poetics thus is one of continuous developing and enveloping, which allows her to depict God, herself and the reader as characters in each other’s narratives and as participating in each other’s storytelling: she authorizes her own story by making it God’s and the reader’s as well. This more conscious structuring and simultaneous reshaping of the new structure in Revelation forms Julian’s most innovative narrative strategy and the most striking interaction between her art and theology: narrator Julian depicts her own storytelling as simultaneously participating in that of God and foreshadowing God’s ultimate storytelling at the end of time. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå university , 2016. , 288 p.
Umeå studies in language and literature, 32
Keyword [en]
English literature, narratology, Middle English, Julian of Norwich, medieval literature, women's writing
National Category
Specific Languages
Research subject
English; Literature
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-126401ISBN: 978-91-7601-566-7OAI: diva2:1021263
Public defence
2016-10-28, Hörsal G, Humanisthuset, Umeå Universitet, Umeå, 10:00 (English)
Available from: 2016-10-07 Created: 2016-10-04 Last updated: 2016-10-05Bibliographically approved

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