Therapeutic Reading in Later Medieval England

Author(s): Daniel McCann

Language: English

Genre(s): Literary Criticism

Series: Religion and Culture in the Middle Ages

  • October 2018 · 272pages · 234x156mm

  • ·Hardback - 9781786833310
  • · eBook - epub - 9781786833334
  • · eBook - mobi - 9781786833341
  • · eBook - pdf - 9781786833327

About The Book

Soul-Health explores the connection between reading and healing. The act of reading engages deeply with our emotions and psychology, and this book broadens our understanding of that process by the surprising revelation that feeling bad has been understood as the best thing for mental and spiritual health. The mental and emotional impact of reading expanded in the Middle Ages into a therapeutic tool for improving the health of the soul – a state called salus animae – and focusing on later Medieval England, the present study explores a core set of religious texts that identify themselves as treatments for the soul. These same texts, however, evoke powerfully negative emotions. Soul-Health investigates each of these emotions, offering an analysis of how fear, penance, compassion and longing could work to promote the health of the soul, demonstrating how interest in mental and spiritual health far pre-dates the modern period, and is more complex and balanced than simply trying to achieve joy.


‘The health of the soul preoccupied medieval Christians and their use of medical terms, for it was no metaphor. Daniel McCann shows how pious reading could be therapeutic for the soul, because of the deep emotions it evoked. His book is a major contribution to both medical humanities and medieval literary studies.’
-Professor Peregrine Horden, Professor of Medieval History, University of London

‘This important volume, which explores the concept of therapeutic reading in late medieval English religious culture, demonstrates a deep knowledge of medieval theories about affect, combined with acute sensitivity to the specific ways in which religious writings produce feeling in their recipients.’
-Denis Renevey, Professor of Medieval English Language and Literature, University of Lausanne

‘In this important re-orientation of the “affective turn”, Daniel McCann argues that there is always a dynamic interconnectedness between emotional and psychological states, and that those states are labile and complex. Emotional progression and movement are the essence of “soule-hele” in the Middle English texts that he analyses. He generates persuasive and powerful close readings through the application of a subtle conceptual model, blending medieval cognitive theory and medical theory and praxis. McCann shows that medical terms in religious writing are not gestural metaphors, but are part of a literal repertoire of spiritual healing, offering a genuine “medicine of words”.’
-Professor Vincent Gillespie, University of Oxford

‘Daniel McCann's intense and provocative book offers strong re-readings of the wealth of Middle English contemplative writings describing the processes of spiritual self-care using the language of medicine, and shows that language to be fundamental to their understanding of the work they set out to do for, and in, their readers. Soul-Health is a major contribution to the study both of late-medieval religious literature and of the sometimes dangerous role played by the passions, negative as well as positive, in late-medieval devotion.’
-Professor Nicholas Watson, Harvard University

'A fascinating and thoroughly researched book that will quickly become essential reading for anyone working on the medical humanities, history of emotions, or devotional reading practices in late medieval England.'
- Marjorie Harrington, H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online

'The great contribution of this book is to bring into focus the explicit, evident and not-soevident connections between devout reading and spiritual health. This it does by a commendable range of reference and considered understanding of a number of particularly appropriate texts, practices that effectively lead to new insight into the power and
effectiveness of late medieval British devotion.'
- John C. Hirsh in the Heythrop Journal


Series Editors’ Preface
Note on Editions and Translations
Introduction: Cura Animarum
Apprehensive Medicine
Lyrical Treatment
Compassionate Healing
Longing for Health
Dangerous Reading
Conclusion: Sowle-hele

About the Author(s)

Daniel McCann

Daniel McCann is the Simon and June Li Darby Fellow in English Literature at Lincoln College, Oxford.

Read more