Hildegard of Bingen: The Woman of Her Age

Article excerpt

Hildegard of Bingen: The Woman of Her Age. By Fiona Maddocks. Now York: Doubleday, 2001. xviii + 332 pp. $22.95 (cloth); $12.95 (paper).

With all the recent additions to literature on Hildegard, it might be difficult to justify yet another general treatment of Hildegards life and work. But Fiona Maddocks has produced a well-researched, comprehensive, and readable summary of Hildegard s contributions; her book is worth additig to the libraries of educators, academic collections, and lay explorers of this medieval visionary's work.

Maddocks is not technically a Hildegard scholar; rather her background is in music and the media, as a music critic and magazine editor. But this more general background serves her well in her stated intent, which is "to steer a route between the extremes of fashionable enthusiasms and scholarly minutiae" (p. x). Though not "scholarly," Maddocks makes careful, informed use of the best scholarship available; she draws on the latest assessments of textual issues in Hildegard research and makes them accessible to a wider public audience. Appendix 1 provides an annotated list of Hildegards works-visionary, musical, and scientific-along with relevant information about extant inanuscripts and their transmission (or disappearance, as the case may be). Although lay readers may not strictly need to know these things, it is important that this information be included in so-called "popular" works; if readers other than scholars know and care about questions of historical criticism, so much the better.

The book begins with some brief comments on biographical sources, people, and places, a basic chronology of Hildegards life, and simple maps. These initial summaries are extremely helpful, not only for the novice but for those of us who are returning to Hildegard studies after a time away. …