Gender and Text in the Later Middle Ages

Gender and Text in the Later Middle Ages

Gender and Text in the Later Middle Ages

Gender and Text in the Later Middle Ages

Synopsis

"A volume of the first importance to the scholarship of medieval women writers.... An ambitious attempt to understand hat 'gender' and 'text' might have meant in the Middle Ages from the perspective of the woman writer and reader rather than through the more usual androcentric lens...[The] collection brings together for the first time in one place essays about a whole range of women writers from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries and from places as distant as Spain and Sweden, as well as the more well-known French and English writers."--Laurie Finke, Kenyon College

"Brings together, under three main categories, diverse methodologies from...some of the foremost scholars and interpreters of each type of material and approach."--Nadia Margolis, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

The women who spoke or wrote in the margins of the Middle Ages--women who were oppressed and diminished by social and religious institutions--often were not literate. Or, if they could read, they did not know how to write. Transforming or subverting Western and patristic traditions associated with the clergy, they also turned to Eastern and North African traditions and to popular oral theater, and focused in their choice of genre on lyric, romance, and confessional autobiography. These essays analyze their texts and reconstruct a medieval feminine aesthetic that begins a rewriting of cultural and literary history.

Jane Chance is professor of English at Rice University. She has written or edited 13 books on Old and Middle English literature, mythology, medieval women, and modern medievalism, including Medieval Mythography: From Roman North Africa to the School of Chartres, A. D. 433-1177 (UPF, 1994), Woman as Hero in Old English Literature, the Mythographic Art: Classical Fable and the Rise of the Vernacular in Early France and England (UPF 1990), and Christine de Pizan, The Letter of Othea to Hector, Translated, with Introduction and Interpretive Essay. She is the editor of the Focus Library of Medieval Women.

Excerpt

Catherine Brown

"HELOISE, concubine and later wife of Peter Abelard, nun and later prioress of Argenteuil, and finally abbess of the Paraclete, has made herself too talked about not to deserve a somewhat lengthy article in this work." Thus begins the entry devoted to this twelfth-century writer in the Dictionnaire historique et critique of Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), published in the final years of the seventeenth century. Evidently, Heloise has long been making people talk--enough to generate not only Bayle's gossipy essay, but also, in the years to follow, a generous number of fictional retellings of her tale, among them the Lettres portugaises, La Nouvelle Héloïse, and Alexander Pope's "Eloisa to Abelard." And she still makes herself talked about, enough to merit a place in the present collection.

Heloise's dramatic story certainly lends itself to repetition. Born probably around the year 1100, she was educated at the convent of Argenteuil outside Paris. When she was in her late teens, her uncle Fulbert engaged the philosopher Peter Abelard to be her tutor. Teacher and student soon became lovers, parents, and, despite Heloise's resistance, husband and wife. Their marriage was kept secret to protect Abelard's reputation; so secret, in fact, that Fulbert, thinking Abelard meant to cast Heloise aside, avenged his family honor by arranging the philosopher's castration. Shortly thereafter, both Abelard and Heloise took vows as Benedictines. Heloise died in 1163 or 1164, after some thirty years as abbess of the Paraclete, governing according to a revision of the Benedictine Rule written by Abelard at her request and to her specifications.

The tale itself has been retold so often as to be comfortably, if still sensationally, familiar. Heloise's writing, however, is a different matter. Five texts bear her name in the manuscript tradition: three letters and a set of theo-

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