Addressing Women in Early Medieval Religious Texts
Online, 10 September 1800-1900 AEST.
From the tenth to the twelfth centuries in England and Scotland we have scant evidence of women’s writing. How, then, can we access these women’s experiences? Using two anchoritic guidance texts as a case study (the Liber confortatorius and De institutione inclusarum), this paper argues that by analysing texts deliberately written for and addressed directly to women we gain an insight into the horizons of possibility for their lives. I compare intimate address in the two texts, demonstrating that superficially similar anchoritic guidance texts can have profoundly different imaginings of the possibilities for their addressee. In the Liber confortatorius, Goscelin addresses Eve as part of himself – he orients her Christian life around his influence and encourages her to imagine him in her cell. Aelred, on the other hand, addresses his sister in De institutione inclusarum as a fellow spiritual director, giving her advice and leaving it up to her how to implement it. Focusing on the moment of address exposes how both men position their addressee in relation to themselves, and demonstrates the fundamental difference in their approaches.
Dr Kathryn Maude is Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies at the American University of Beirut. Her book, Addressing Women in Early Medieval Religious Texts, is out now with Boydell and Brewer.
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