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Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary Paperback – March 12, 1983


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 488 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Vintage Books ed edition (March 12, 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394711556
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394711553
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #127,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Dramatic, informative and entertaining...a substantial and provocative book." - TLS

"A work of remarkably elegant and eloquent scholarship." - Observer

"Astonishing and enlightening.... packed with scholarship, imagery, vivid selection, and wry contrastive comment." - Margaret Mead

From the Inside Flap

Shows how the figure of Mary has shaped and been shaped by changing social and historical circumstances and why for all their beauty and power,the legends of Mary have condemned real women to perpetual inferiority.

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Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 58 people found the following review helpful By "troytron" on April 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
The fact remains that this book offers a very solid and accurately researched survey of the development of the "phenomenon" of devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. It is not exhaustive by any means, but traces all the major strains of development from at least the third century. What the book fails to do adequately is critically delve into the real roots of Marian themes as found in the New Testament records. Indeed, what we see in the very first century of the Christian/Biblical era is a rather rapid (and radical) development of attitudes about the Mother of Jesus, a shift from early indifference and ignorance of Mary's role (the Marcan Gospel, Pauline letters) to an outright "lifting up" of Mary as the Ideal Christian, the First True Disciple, worthy of loud praise (Luke), and even iconic status as Eve-Israel 'Mother of believers'(John) and glorified symbol of the Church itself (Revelation). I wish Werner had spent more time drawing attention to how swift and startling these developments in the understanding of Mary were when the New Testament writings were being composed. Also, how did these "arcs of thought" regarding Mary take root geographically in the 2nd century church? Werner could have noted that it was no coincidence that Gospel communities giving great prominence to the figure of Mary(Luke's Antioch, the Johannine churches) in the first century continued to preserve these emphases in the 2nd (Ignatius of Anioch, Irenaeus-Justin, etc). Otherwise, Werner gives a solid depiction of how formative ecclesiastical motives (asceticism, Christological controversy) rattled the chains of Mary's rather flexible image in the patristic age, and how her mystique lent itself so readily to mythical, legendary rumblings about her death, intercessory powers, etc.Read more ›
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth G. Melillo VINE VOICE on January 23, 2006
Format: Paperback
Marina Warner's writing style is so magnificent that each paragraph seems a tribute to the beauty of the English language. I should like to use this book as an instruction manual for advanced courses in literary composition.

In itself, this book is a landmark work of European history. Marina's treatment of nearly a millennium of devotions, historical implications, poetry, art, and culture is exceedingly extensive and cohesive.

I withheld the fifth star because the underlying thesis, that the devotions to Mary have condemned women to inferior status, distorts the essence of the devotions chronicled. Even in the 'age of faith,' the connections between devotion, which admits to God's ways being unknowable, and the physical manifestations (icons, relics and the like) which make them come alive for the believer, hardly would have been veritable manuals of 'how to use Mary's holiness to underline female inferiority.' In fact, were this book a historical work without the feminist angle, it would have been far better.
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45 of 62 people found the following review helpful By Pedro Rosario on October 4, 1999
Format: Paperback
I am a catholic, and one of my favorite subjects is mariology. I personally find this book illuminating in the fact that for many years many (male) theologians have used the figure of the Virgin Mary to oppress women in many different ways. I admire Marina Warner's work.
However, not always Marian dogmas are used in such a way. I think that this book makes an extraordinary point against the devotions to the Virgin Mary, but avoids the fact that also such devotions have been used to free women.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Brian Griffith on February 18, 2008
Format: Paperback
Like an appealing art gallery guide, Warner conducts a grand tour of the legends, literature, and imagery concerning Mother Mary. Along the way she exposes vast differences in the messages these artists make Mary convey. On one hand, Warner shows the church moving to emphasize a host of pre-Christian rules about the ranking of males over females, and enforcement of taboos concerning sexual pollution -- to a point where all contact between men and women was a sin to be forgiven, and all love for women was a form of idolatry. As Matfré Ermengaud put it in the 1200s, "Satan, in order to make men suffer bitterly, makes them adore women; for instead of loving as they should, the creator with fervent love, with all their heart, with all their mind, ... they sinfully love women". (p. 153.) Only males who had no part in such sin could mediate forgiveness for it.

On the other hand, Warner shows the rising popular devotion to women and mothers, taking form as troubadour art and as the great cult of Mother Mary. What did it mean to love her? Countering a rise of romantic ideals, the monastic artists promoted Mary as an expression of devotion for chastity. While formally shunning all earthly females, they pointed the parishioners toward a more worthy object for their devotion -- the chaste and non-physical woman of their spiritual dreams in heaven. In the "counter-romance" of clerical poetry about Mary, chastity was actually marriage to the Virgin in heaven. The Virgin called all men to love her, and was offended if they spurned her for mortal females. In a French clerical story of the 1300's, the "Miracles de Notre Dame par Personnages", a young man considers monastic vows, but then falls in love with a woman.
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