In Spirit More Than Flesh: Epistolary Codes, Friendship, and Social Networks in 8th Century Women’s Letters to St. Boniface
Bryn Mawr College. Department of Classics
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This thesis addresses the ways in which letters construct both the sender and recipient through formal characteristics such as epistolary codes and topoi as well as through the language of friendship and kinship. It looks specifically at a set of five letters from women living in monastic contexts in the 8th century in the British Isles written to St. Boniface. In reading these letters closely, the goal is to understand how these women interacted with the language of letter-writing and how analysis of their letters under the assumption of letters as a literary genre can help understand how they construct both themselves and Boniface. Letters provide a unique site for this type of analysis as they straddle the line of the private and public. They are extremely sensitive to social roles and thus provide ample room to understand how these women occupied their roles in life and exercised power and agency within the limits they lived by. I argue that, while they generally do not break with the epistolary and social roles assigned to them, the ways these women utilize the epistolary genre is highly sophisticated and they reveal (intentionally) a world in which they wield significant power and may participate in cultures of friendship that were often closed to women.
Marion Hamilton was a Bryn Mawr student