Reading Families: Women's Literate Practice in Late Medieval England

Reading Families: Women's Literate Practice in Late Medieval England

Reading Families: Women's Literate Practice in Late Medieval England

Reading Families: Women's Literate Practice in Late Medieval England

Synopsis

Krug argues that in the later middle ages, people defined themselves in terms of family relationships but increasingly saw their social circumstances as being connected to the written word.

Excerpt

This book is about women's engagement with the written word in late medieval England. Although at the end of the Middle Ages an unprecedented number of Englishwomen came to employ written texts in their daily lives, this development does not imply that all or even the majority of women could read and write; what it does mean is that material conditions, linguistic modes, and imaginative habits were becoming aligned in ways that made it seem natural for women to think of writing as a part of everyday life. Michael Clanchy has shown that in contrast with the earlier Middle Ages, when literate skills were primarily the preserve of clerics, beginning in the thirteenth century writing and the production of documents came increasingly to be associated with the courts and their maintenance of legal and financial affairs. a number of interesting and important books have been written that enlarge upon Clanchy's thesis, most recently, Steven Justice's Writing and Rebellion: England in 1381 and Richard Firth Green's Crisis of Truth: Literature and Law in Ricardian England. However, although recent scholarship has described the impact of literacy and text-based knowledge across social divides, less attention has been paid to the manner in which men's and women's literate practices differed. Seeking to consider the difference, in this book I look specifically at the literate practice of two women, Margaret Paston and Margaret Beaufort, and at that of two communities in which women were centrally important, the Norwich Lollards and the Bridgettines at Syon. My claim is that in the later Middle Ages, people defined themselves in terms of family relationships but came to see their social circumstances increasingly as produced by writing. As English culture became more dependent on written texts, even women, whose participation in literate activities . . .

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