Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Medieval Anchoritisms: Gender, Space and the Solitary Life

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Medieval Anchoritisms: Gender, Space and the Solitary Life

Article excerpt

Medieval Anchoritisms: Gender, Space and the Solitary Life. By Liz Herbert McAvoy. [Gender in the Middle Ages, Vol. 6.] (Rochester, NY: D. S. Brewer, an imprint of Boydell & Brewer. 2011. Pp. x, 201. $95.00. ISBN 978-1-84384277-4.)

As Liz Herbert McAvoy points out in the introduction to her new book, "The past two-and-a-half decades have seen a considerable development in scholarly interest in the anchoritic life and its wider effects upon medieval society and its systems of belief" (p. 3). Modestly, she does not add that, for the last dozen of those twenty-five years, she has been at the forefront of stimulating, promoting, and shaping this scholarly interest as conference organizer and editor of conference proceedings and collections of commissioned essays. It is particularly good, therefore, now to have her monograph on the subject.

The centers of interest and angles of approach of Medieval Anchoritisms will be familiar to anyone who has followed McAvoy's work over this period. Questions of gender are central- particularly the way that patriarchal culture encloses women (with the anchorhold only the most extreme manifestation of that fact) whilst in the process providing a position from which women can write back. Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, and Hélène Cixous are the acknowledged underpinnings of the approach. As the book's subtitle indicates, gender here is inflected also with work on the social production of space (Gaston Bachelard, Henri Lefebvre, and Michel Foucault); René Girard on scapegoats and Lrit Rogoffs more recent Terra Infirma are also avowed influences (see pp. 6-7). The theoretical model is worth emphasizing, because it is its constant presence that lends coherence and unity to a book that often jumps around in method and especially in chronology. It should be pointed out that, after its first chapter and despite the inclusive title, Medieval Anchoritisms is a study of gender, space, and the solitary life in England.

The first two chapters look at male anchorites and in particular the way in which male anchoritism is "haunted" by the feminine. …

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