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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The life and English writings of John Capgrave Fredeman, Elta Jane


This dissertation is the first critical examination of the English works of the fifteenth-century Augustinian friar, John Capgrave (1393-1464). The appraisal of them is placed within the context of his whole career, for it is important to recognize that much of his time was devoted to duties as an official of his order and that while his vernacular canon is extensive, it is not as large as his Latin. The biographical chapter synthesizes details about Capgrave's home convents, the conventual life and educational system of the Augustinians, the people Capgrave came in contact with and the duties of the offices he held in order to make new conjectures about certain periods in his life, to demonstrate that he was not a sequestered figure ignorant of the turbulent world about him, and to provide the background for some of the characteristic stylistic traits identifiable in his vernacular works. In terms of Capgrave's whole career, it is apparent that the English works are in one sense an interruption, for all four of the saints' lives and The Solace of Pilgrims were written in a twelve-year period before he became provincial of the order in England, and after he had mainly ceased writing the biblical commentaries which had gained him his theological reputation in the 1430's and would preoccupy him once more in the 1450's. Before the individual saints' lives are treated, a general chapter demonstrates that Capgrave's four lives all follow the Antonian model of the longer Latin life and are therefore divergent from the native English tradition which focused on a few critical moments, especially the martyrdom itself. It includes a survey of the development of the genre in England, a summary of the features of the Latin lives, and an analysis of traits common to Capgrave's works. The next four chapters deal with Capgrave's lives in the order of their composition, and the contents of each chapter are inevitably conditioned by the state of scholarship on the work and the materials available. The study of The Life of St. Norbert, a poem which is still unpublished and has received no critical attention, is chiefly concerned with an identification of the Latin source and a comparison of it with the more legendary version which Capgrave produced. At the same time it considers the various aspects of treatment and style which make Capgrave's poem more dramatic than its source. The probable sources of Capgrave's second rime royal legend, The Life of St. Katherine of Alexandria, have already been established; and after treating some of the assumptions about the manuscript transmission, this chapter moves to a more purely literary analysis. Since the poem is so long, the discussion centres on poetic techniques, characterization, and the structure of the two elaborate debates. The two prose lives are much briefer; each depends on a single Latin source, one identified, the other apparently no longer extant. The first, The Life of St. Augustine, is closely compared with its source, a Vita by another Augustinian friar, Jordanus of Saxony, to isolate illustrations of traits already described as characteristic of Capgrave’s work in the earlier chapters and to provide examples of his skill as translator. These same techniques are also discussed in relation to The Life of St. Gilbert of Sempringham, but, here, more emphasis is placed on the correction of misapprehensions about the actual source and on the construction of the work. In the last chapter, the survey concludes with a study of Capgrave's two "original" works, The Solace of Pilgrims and The Chronicle of England. The derivative nature of their materials is acknowledged and illustrated, but attention is focused on Capgrave's concern for structure and the details which reveal it. The conclusion indicates, that devotional works such as Capgrave wrote are more characteristic of the fifteenth century than the few secular works which are subjected to continual scrutiny in most studies of the period and that further examination of his works and their techniques would lead to a more realistic appraisal of the methods and taste of the time.

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