This volume examines the extraordinary richness and diversity of over one thousand years of women’s writing in the Catholic tradition. A reference guide, it consists of alphabetically arranged entries on sixty-four authors, each written by a scholar in the area. Each entry is divided into five parts: a brief biography of the author; a critical examination of her major themes, particularly as they relate to Catholicism and women’s issues; a summary of the critical reception of her works; and a selected primary and secondary bibliography. The volume’s introduction places the authors in an historical and literary context, noting how their writings respond to or reflect significant events or movements within the Catholic Church. To direct further study, the book closes with a selected general bibliography.
Like most worthwhile projects, this book arose out of a felt need. After years of teaching and publishing on early American women writers, the area of my graduate training, I found myself gravitating by personal and professional inclination toward my university’s interdisciplinary Catholic Studies program, where I now teach a variety of Catholic literature courses on both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Although a long-time reader of a handful of Catholic women writers such as Sigrid Undset and Muriel Spark, I needed rather hastily to expand my repertoire to include more women’s texts in my courses. However, I soon discovered that few general resources on the subject exist. Although women have been writing in the Catholic tradition since early medieval times, no source prior to this book has brought together biographical, critical, and bibliographical information on a wide cross section of Catholic women authors. While individual sources on more popular writers such as Katherine Anne Porter abound, no single guide offered me the overview of the field or the sense of the sweep and diversity of writings from across centuries and countries that I was looking for as I began my study.
This gap in scholarship seems at first surprising given the prominence over the last few decades of feminist and revisionist criticism that has succeeded in