Iona: The Earliest Poetry of a Celtic Monastery

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Thomas Owen Clancy, Gilbert Márkus
Edinburgh University Press, 1995 - Poetry - 271 pages

The highly publicized obscenity trial of Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (1928) is generally recognized as the crystallizing moment in the construction of a visible modern English lesbian culture, marking a great divide between innocence and deviance, private and public, New Woman and Modern Lesbian. Yet despite unreserved agreement on the importance of this cultural moment, previous studies often reductively distort our reading of the formation of early twentieth-century lesbian identity, either by neglecting to examine in detail the developments leading up to the ban or by framing events in too broad a context against other cultural phenomena.

Fashioning Sapphism locates the novelist Radclyffe Hall and other prominent lesbians--including the pioneer in women's policing, Mary Allen, the artist Gluck, and the writer Bryher--within English modernity through the multiple sites of law, sexology, fashion, and literary and visual representation, thus tracing the emergence of a modern English lesbian subculture in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Drawing on extensive new archival research, the book interrogates anew a range of myths long accepted without question (and still in circulation) concerning, to cite only a few, the extent of homophobia in the 1920s, the strategic deployment of sexology against sexual minorities, and the rigidity of certain cultural codes to denote lesbianism in public culture.

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It looks to me like someone has substituted a description for a pornographic or extremely suggestive book for that of one concerned with sixth-century monasticism. The poetry of Columba, which I had hoped to read directly, apparently represents sophisticated use of Hiberno Latin, from one of the early Christian monks credited elsewhere for saving Western civilization. Iona, of course, was one of the first monasteries established on (an island just off) the western Scottish coast by Celtish monks from Ireland. From this base, they brought Christianity to most of what is now Scotland and England, and preserved hundreds--and perhaps thousands--of Greek and Latin documents. Columba, the leader of this mission, was one of its most accomplished abbots, and the poems discussed in this book were written in Latin, a language in which the Cymry tongue shares no root, making its mastery doubly difficult for the Celtic scholars like Columba. 


The Life and Work of the Monastery
Iona as a Literary Centre
Altus prosator

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About the author (1995)

Thomas Clancy is Lecturer in the Department of Celtic at the University of Glasgow

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