Gender and Text in the Later Middle Ages

By Jane Chance | Go to book overview

Notes
Portions of this essay have been reprinted with the permission of a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, in which it appeared as "The Autohagiographical Tradition in Medieval Women's Devotional Writing." All translations are my own unless otherwise noted.
1. See, for example, Wyschogrod's fascinating study, Saints and Postmodernism, in which she discusses hagiographical narrative in the context of a postmodern ethic.
2. Among the many recent works devoted to medieval holy women, see Dinzelbacher and Bauer, eds., Frauenmystik im Mittelalter; Nichols and Shank, eds., Peaceweavers; Lewis, Bibliographie zur deutschen Frauenmystik; Thiébaux, trans., Writings of Medieval Women; and the publications of the Pegasus Library of Medieval Women and Peregrina Press.
3. In Sacred Biography, Heffernan asserts that "it is virtually impossible to determine how major a role was played by the autobiographical voice for the broad spectrum of the medieval audience.... Although there is no way to argue the following point conclusively, I assume that medieval audiences responded to claims of autobiography in much the same way as modern audiences do" (212). He assumes here that autobiography claims to represent literal, historical truth, and that medieval and modern readers respond to autobiography's "I" with something of the voyeur's eagerness to observe another's experience. But in medieval religious and didactic literature, to which the various forms of women's autobiographical writing belong, "truth" has little to do with history, nor is the "I" the particularized voice of another. Rather than serving as a peephole for curious onlookers onto someone else's exclusive experience, it comprehends the reader, and all possible readers, expressing that which is potential in us all. Certainly modern readers' wish to identify with the subject of autobiography plays a part in their reception of the narrative, but that is rarely the primary response modern autobiographers try to elicit.
4. Both Hilary and Kieckhefer have previously used this term in somewhat different senses.
5. Useful here is the concept of the fiction of the female voice, as defined in recent studies of the trobairitz, in particular Bruckner "Fictions of the Female Voice,"865-91.
6. See Joensen's discussion of a medieval autobiographer's use of allegory in "Flesh Made Word,"169-82.
7. Dronke Women Writers of the Middle Ages, 193-95; and Newman Sister of Wisdom, 2-4, 34-41, 254-57, both contain illuminating discussions of this topos in the work of Hildegard of Bingen.
8. For further thoughts on Julian's use of this figure, see Johnson, "Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe,"820-38.
9. Though both surviving texts of her Leben, from which the example is drawn, are not entirely autohagiographical, they contain lengthy quotations from her writ-

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