Medieval Women's Visionary Literature

Medieval Women's Visionary Literature

Medieval Women's Visionary Literature

Medieval Women's Visionary Literature

Synopsis

These pages capture a thousand years of devotional and visionary writing by medieval women. The writers come from all different backgrounds and traditions, and they include founders of religious communities, hermits and recluses, wives and mothers, wandering teachers, heretics and reformers. What they all had in common was a belief that they had been chosen to speak, and here we have the evidence of their visions and experiences of the divine. Covering a span of time from late antiquity to the 15th century, the writings include examples of lyric poetry, drama (including the first play written by a woman), epics, saints' lives, and letters. as well as some newly invented genres such as the spiritual autobiography, the guide to prayer, progression of visions, and in Inquisition depositions. A new portrait of the female writer in the Middle Ages emerges, a more accurate portrait than was ever before possible, as many of these texts have either been out of print or are here translated for the first time. We see women writers of the Middle Ages doing what they did best: writing devotional, visionary, and erotic literature from a very personal viewpoint, and what they say to the modern reader has much to do with nature of creativity and the creative experience of women.

Excerpt

Women were not the only writers of devotional and didactic literature, but they did write some of the best. I speculate on a number of reasons for this fact later, but perhaps the most important thing to remember in accounting for women's success in this area is that they were writing the literature they knew was needed by them and by large numbers of the faithful. That does not mean that this literature is easy to read in the twentieth century. If it is to have meaning for us, we need some preparation to be able to read it intelligently and learn from it. The purpose of this introduction is to provide that preparation. First I will explore the nature and significance of these devotional narratives by developing a few of the themes common to them and by analyzing some of the issues involved in their production. Then I will introduce the historical and social background of the writers whose works are included.

This anthology is intended to illustrate the wide variety of spiritual teachings and lifestyles recorded by and about women, as well as to suggest what they had in common. Devotional literature in the Christian tradition may be defined as literature written for the faithful and intended to develop or heighten feelings of devotion toward God or the saints. It takes for granted a basic knowledge of Christian belief and is not concerned with defining points of doctrine in a systematic way. The writers of devotional literature assumed that their readers and auditors already had some knowledge of the life of prayer as ii was practiced in monasteries and convents and that they were interested in furthering their devotional practices. Moreover, devotional literature, though not specifically intended to present theological issues, is didactic in that it speaks about the proper Christian life and about the proper relationship between the individual soul and the divine.

But why should we study devotional literature written by women in the Middle Ages after all? Since most of the surviving texts written by women in the Middle Ages were devotional in intent, to ask why they should be studied is like asking why women writers in this period should be studied and also why women chose to write this kind of literature. One answer is that we study writers for what they tell us of the human condition, for what they reveal of human creativity and the uses of language; and we study women writers for the same reasons. But we are also aware that the gender of a writer shapes what a writer does or can do with language and that sex roles, along with other factors such as age, class, and occupation, affect the choices a . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.