Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Convent Chronicles: Women Writing about Women and Reform in the Late Middle Ages

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Convent Chronicles: Women Writing about Women and Reform in the Late Middle Ages

Article excerpt

Convent Chronicles: Women Writing about Women and Reform in the Late Middle Ages. By Anne Winston-Allen. (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. 2004. Pp. xviii, 345. $55.00.)

Religious life for women in the late Middle Ages has received significant scholarly attention in the last few years-attention that has come in various forms, including the mounting in 2005 in Germany of an international exhibition, Krone und Schleier, which brought together a magnificent collection of objects from late medieval women's religious communities, and the publication of several monographs focusing on women and monastic reform. Anne WinstonAllen 's Convent Chronicles: Women Writing about Women and Reform in the Late Middle Ages, is a fine example of the work being done in this growing field of research.

In Convent Chronicles, Winston-Allen proposes to offer what she terms a "rare inside look" at the Observant movement within German- and Dutchspeaking women's communities in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Switzerland-rare because she offers for discussion and analysis "long overlooked" writings-particularly chronicles and historical accounts by female authors, and inside because these writings emerged from within the Observant communities themselves. She argues that the history of the Observant movement needs to be reconsidered by taking women's writings into account, and that this reconsideration will compel scholars to revisit the broader issues of women's self-concept and agency in the late Middle Ages.

After a brief historical, historiographical, and methodological introduction, Winston-Allen presents and discusses excerpts (in English translation) from women's monastic writings. In the first chapter, she selects texts that address the "nuts and bolts" of daily life within Observant communities-who entered and why, issues of rank and status, living conditions (including complaints about over-salted entrees and warm beer), education, work, and the structure and oversight of spiritual life. Issues of self-concept and agency emerge clearly from Chapter Two, in which Winston-Allen discusses convent founding narratives-narratives that, looking back at, interpreting, and imagining events that in many cases had taken place some 100 years earlier, tended to stress female solidarity in the face of financial and organizational hardship, a non-hierarchical approach to organizing and problem-solving (even in working with male supporters), independence and humility. …

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