The Feminist Encyclopedia of French Literature

By Eva Martin Sartori; Colette H. Winn et al. | Go to book overview

A Feminist History of French Literature

THE MIDDLE AGES

The history of women authors throughout the French Middle Ages, that is from the Merovingian period (c. 475) through the fifteenth century, is framed by the proscriptions of Church Fathers against women writing. Most influential in denying women the right to teach--whether viva voce or in writing--were the letters of Paul (d. A.D. 67), who specifically silences woman and forbids her to engage in preaching or didactic activity because of the double transgression her mother Eve committed in the Fall: "Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" ( 1 Timothy 2: 11-14). Paul's view of the doubly disobedient nature of woman became a tenet of Christian theology, and Church Fathers of the third and fourth centuries, for example, Tertullian and Jerome, retrospectively link her sins of disobedience to her sexuality, concluding, as does the latter: "As long as woman is for birth and children, she is different from man as body from soul. But if she wishes to serve Christ more than the world, then she will cease to be a woman and will be called man." 1 Logically, then, only religious women who by their devotion to Christ transcend their sexual identity are permitted to write. Indeed, in the Merovingian and Carolingian period, Frankish women writers whose works have been preserved are most often religious. The interdiction against female teaching is made even more powerful by the Church's suspicion of secular literary activity, whatever the writer's sex, as it leads to the creation of fabulas, which at the least distract human attention from spiritual and moral concerns or, worse, provoke sinful thoughts and activity.

Several consequences follow from the above and apply to the entire period: First, few women venture into writing, since it is seen as a gendered (male)

-xi-

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