Women's Writing in Middle English

Women's Writing in Middle English

Women's Writing in Middle English

Women's Writing in Middle English

Synopsis

The aim of this anthology is to illustrate the full range of Middle English writing from the period 1300-1530 in whose production we know, or can reasonably assume, that women were involved in one way or another. Some of the texts, therefore, are original compositions in Middle English; some are translations (probably made by men) of texts composed by women in Latin or the European vernaculars; and others are translations of originally male texts made by the 15th century Englishwomen into Middle English. The complex issues raised by the inclusion of the latter group of texts, in particular the vital role that translators, both medieval and modern, play in the production and transmission of texts, are also discussed.

Excerpt

When Margery Kempe asked the Vicar of St Stephen's, Norwich, to spare her an hour or two to speak with him about the love of God, the saintly Richard of Caister expressed incredulity that a woman could occupy, so long in speaking about the love of Our Lord (Book of Margery Kempe, p. 38). Some people may well harbour similar doubts about an anthology of Middle English women's texts. How can a selection of women's writing in Middle English fill a whole book, when only two names of medieval English women writers immediately come to mind -- those of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe?

It is true that there is a lamentable dearth of Middle English women writers, though we do now know the names of more than two. Indeed, a statistical study has shown that between the introduction of printing in 1475 and 1640 women's writings made up 0.5 per cent of all publications and that even in the period 1640-1700, when women began to publish in significant numbers, their output constitutes a mere 1.2 per cent (Crawford 1985: 212, 266). A recent bibliography of pre-1900 women's personal writings found that less than 10 per cent of the texts came from the period before 1800 (Davis and Joyce 1989: x). It is therefore not surprising that initial interest in women's writing in English has centred on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, though recently there has been a growing interest in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The pre-Renaissance period, however, has been neglected, except for the virtual canonisation, both literary and religious, of Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich.

In contrast, the aim of this anthology is to illustrate the full range of Middle English writing from the period 1300-1530 in whose production we know, or can reasonably assume, that women were involved in one way or another. Some of the texts, therefore, are original compositions in Middle English; some are translations . . .

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