Abstract

This article examines Robyn Cadwallader’s 2015 novel The Anchoress as an interpretation of the early thirteenth-century saint’s life Seinte Margarete. The Anchoress is at once a scrupulously researched historical novel and what the author calls a “critical fiction,” that is, a work of fiction that undertakes the same analytical project as conventional literary criticism: it self-consciously interprets a narrative through its own narrative and investigates many of the same issues that are explored in more familiar forms of literary scholarship and cultural history. The author analyzes The Anchoress’s critical strategies and considers how it can prompt us to think in new and creative ways about Seinte Margarete and the devotional culture that produced it. As it interprets Seinte Margarete, this article shows, Cadwallader’s novel mimics the medieval text, producing a Saint Margaret for a twenty-first-century secular audience. Despite their limitations, which are also considered, critical fictions such as Cadwallader’s can deepen our appreciation of the past we love and stimulate us to rethink its relation to the present we inhabit.

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