Academic journal article Magistra

What Nuns Read: Books and Libraries in Medieval English Nunneries

Academic journal article Magistra

What Nuns Read: Books and Libraries in Medieval English Nunneries

Article excerpt

David Bell

(Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1995), 300 pp., he, ISBN 0-87907-558-9.

What Nuns Read is the third installment of David Bell's monumental series of studies of medieval Cistercian literacy in the houses of Great Britain. Perusing this work is every bit as delightful as hearing Bell speak, and it reflects his customary scholarly polish presented with the unique, personable style one has come to associate with Bell. Bell has exhaustively researched manuscripts and other textual references to literacy, and presents a very balanced view of the scope and problems of medieval literacy for nuns. Although the accomplishments of Anglo-Saxon women are well known, those of their post-conquest counterparts are often less visible.

This study focuses on the period from the Conquest through the Reformation, and is a valuable contribution to women's history in the late medieval and early modern periods. A quick survey of Bell's list of manuscripts highlights the role of women as patrons, who bequeathed important works to monasteries or who commissioned them for personal use. Bell's work rethinks the place of women and women's communities in British literary history, considering the possibility of feminine authorship or custodianship of several works which have been attributed to men or been thought to have formed part of a collection belonging to a male community. …

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