Like many exegetes before him, the twelfth-century Cistercian abbot Bernard of Clairvaux regarded the lovers in the Song of Songs as allegorical fictions. Yet these prosopopoeial figures remained of profound commentarial interest to him. Bernard’s Sermons on the Song of Songs returns again and again to the literal level of meaning, where text becomes voice and voice becomes fleshly persona. This essay argues that Bernard pursued a distinctive poetics of fictional persons modeled on the dramatic exegesis of Origen of Alexandria as well as on the Song itself. Ultimately, the essay suggests, Bernard’s Sermons form an overlooked episode in the literary history of fiction.
Literary Persons and Medieval Fiction in Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Song of Songs
Julie Orlemanski is Associate Professor of English at the University of Chicago. Her monograph Symptomatic Subjects: Bodies, Medicine, and Causality in the Literature of Late Medieval England appeared in 2019 and was shortlisted for the British Society for Literature and Science book prize. She is currently at work on two book-length projects. One concerns prosopopoeia in medieval writing. The other follows the tangled genealogies of fictionality and disenchantment to argue for a comparative poetics of fiction.
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Julie Orlemanski; Literary Persons and Medieval Fiction in Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Song of Songs. Representations 1 February 2021; 153 (1): 29–50. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2021.153.3.29
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