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Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages. By Robert Mills. Chicago University Press. 2015

Watt, Diane (2018) Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages. By Robert Mills. Chicago University Press. 2015 History, 103 (358). pp. 866-867.

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Robert Mills's generously illustrated new monograph is a welcome addition both to medieval studies and to gender and sexuality studies (including queer, transgender and feminist theory). Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages is an interdisciplinary study that brings together art history and literary analysis in order to explore ‘the relationship between sodomy and motifs of vision and visibility in medieval culture, on the one hand, and those categories we today call “gender” and “sexuality” on the other’ (p. 11). Mills's use of inverted commas in this quotation deliberately foregrounds the potential pitfalls of applying modern terminology to, and of adopting a modern perspective on, medieval images and texts, yet Mills makes a thoughtful and compelling case for self‐consciously and reflectively adopting what are often termed ‘strategic anachronisms’ in order to make sense of human desires in the more distant past. In interpreting the apparently invisible or unspeakable, Mills allows speculative readings to sit alongside careful historical contextualization, as evidenced in his starting point, a nuanced and adroit exploration of a remarkable miniature of St Jerome tricked into wearing a woman's dress found in the sumptuous early fifteenth‐century Belle Heures of Jean de Berry. Mills observes that medieval viewers of this image of Jerome's accidental cross‐dressing and gender inversion would understand the saint's reputation for chastity to be under attack, but they would not necessarily make a connection between effeminacy and sodomy or homoerotic desire. Nevertheless, as Mills goes on to suggest, Jean de Berry was himself subject to scandalous rumours, and so ‘although sodomy is not an explicit frame of reference . . . its deployment as a term of insult and abuse might have informed the ways in which the miniature was received’.

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > School of Literature and Languages
Authors :
Date : 2018
DOI : 10.1111/1468-229X.12686
Copyright Disclaimer : © 2018 The Author. History © 2018 The Historical Association and John Wiley & Sons Ltd This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: WATT, D. (2018), Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages. By Mills, Robert. Chicago University Press. 2015. xiii + 398pp. £41.50.. History, 103: 866-867, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions
Depositing User : Melanie Hughes
Date Deposited : 16 Nov 2018 10:30
Last Modified : 15 Mar 2019 14:49

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