The Romance of Conversion: Crossover in Late-Medieval Literature

Danielle Lisa Sottosanti, Fordham University


Within the past twenty years, scholars have explored romance representations of religious conversion as windows to larger issues of race, community, and proto-nationalism in late-medieval England. Until now, scholars have focused on discrete groups of converts, such as former Muslims and Jews, in order to examine the particularities of converting these groups in late-medieval Christian thought. My interdisciplinary dissertation argues that it is now time to build on these critical findings, drawing them together to more broadly examine the tensions inherent in religious conversion. Only by considering narratives about the conversions of Muslims and Jews, and even transformations within Christianity, together can we fully understand the ways that conceptualizations of race, ritual, hypocrisy, and proof intersect in late-Middle English and Anglo-Norman romance and homiletic texts. Drawing from Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale, The King of Tars, Middle English and Anglo-Norman apocryphal childhood of Christ stories, and Malory's Morte Darthur, I have found that it is insufficient to attribute all differences in representations of conversion to subjects' race or original religion; this finding suggests that converts' identities were more malleable – at least in literature – than what some critics have previously suggested. Furthermore, from this multivalent perspective, my project shows that any romance conversion narrative must contend with questions of the convert's hypocrisy and proof, particularly (but, due to medieval texts' attribution of shared stereotypes, not limited to) when the convert is from a group whom Christian authors associate with deceptiveness, stubbornness, or lust. Consequently, romance authors are tasked with balancing theological issues with the secular concern of establishing a proto-national community, with the latter always surpassing the former in terms of importance.

Subject Area

Medieval literature

Recommended Citation

Sottosanti, Danielle Lisa, "The Romance of Conversion: Crossover in Late-Medieval Literature" (2019). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI13879923.