Pearl and Contemplative Writing

Abstract: This dissertation places Pearl in the context of works by the English fourteenth-century contemplative writers (‘mystics’), as well as of patristic and other theological treatises, focusing on the theme of comprehending and speaking about a transcendent divine dimension. The purpose is to show that Pearl and the works of Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Walter Hilton, Richard Rolle and the author of The Cloud of Unknowing share a concern with attempting to express the inexpressible. In that attempt, concepts and ideas handed down by influential thinkers such as Dionysius the Areopagite, or Pseudo-Dionysius, turn out to be vital. Chapter one deals with underlying generic and narrative distinctions between Pearl and the texts of the contemplative writers. Medieval concepts of literature, as well as contemporary aspects of narratology, are discussed in order to identify principal dissimilarities with regard to narrative form and purpose. Chapter two presents Pearl in the context of the affective strain in fourteenth-century English contemplative and devotional writing. In the contemplative texts as well as in Pearl, the Passion is portrayed as the foundation for the spiritual life and as an essential principle of transformation. Chapter three closely examines the Dreamer, the narrator and protagonist of Pearl, at the beginning of the narrative up to his meeting with the Pearl-Maiden in Paradyse. Chapter three also considers the role and authority of the Marian Pearl-Maiden as a guide to the Dreamer and as an intermediary between the human and divine, i.e. between the Dreamer and God. The last two chapters discuss the concept of hierarchy and the idea of a transcendent but also an immanent God, as described by Pseudo-Dionysius and the English contemplative writers, in order to shed light on the Dreamer's (mis)conception of the divine and on his inner transformation.

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