Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Women and Medieval Literary Culture from the Early Middle Ages to the Fifteenth Century

Corinne Saunders, Diane Watt

Women and Medieval Literary Culture from the Early Middle Ages to the Fifteenth Century unpacks the complex relationships of women with medieval literary culture across the longue durée, exploring scribes and book production, patronage, authorship, ownership and reception, women’s education, literacy, learning and knowledge, as well as women as readers and women as subjects.

 The essays within Women and Medieval Literary Culture address the following questions:

  1. How were books produced and circulated in the Middle Ages and what was the role of women in these processes?
  2. What were the linguistic and cultural contexts of these works? How important were European and global traditions and influences?
  3. How are women represented, whether as authors, readers, or subjects? How does this change over time?

While the primary emphasis is on England, the essays in this volume also include Latin, French, German, Welsh, and Scots Gaelic literary culture. Women and Medieval Literary Culture also places writing within Britain in a wider European context, including, for example, early English women missionaries in Francia. 

Women and Medieval Literary Culture covers the major literary genres: lyrics, saints’ lives, devotional texts, drama, romance, and fabliaux. There are individual essays focusing on the most famous women authors within or associated with England: Marie de France, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, and Christine de Pizan. But it also goes beyond these topics. It introduces less familiar authors, such the early English nun Hugeburc and Clemence of Barking, and a wide range of forms from medical treatises to conduct books. Our authors offer a new understanding of the breadth and depth of medieval women’s engagement with literary culture that goes beyond the limits of traditional literary and book history.

The focus on women’s literary culture, broadly defined, sets this volume apart from many previous studies which are limited to women authors. Whereas most existing studies of medieval women’s writing are restricted to the period from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries, this volume provides a long view, surveying women’s literary culture from pre-Conquest England through to the eve of the Reformation. And it emphasises the multilingual and multicultural contexts of women’s literary culture, looking beyond England to consider wider British, European, and Arabic influences.

The contributors to this volume are mainly located in the UK and the USA, but there are also authors from Japan, Norway, and Switzerland. All are world-leading experts in the field.

Women and Medieval Literary Culture edited by Corinne Saunders and Diane Watt

About The Authors

Corinne Saunders

Corinne Saunders is Professor of Medieval Literature in the Department of English Studies, Durham University. Her third monograph, Magic and the Supernatural in Medieval English Ro...

View profile >

Diane Watt

Diane Watt is Professor of Medieval English Literature at the University of Surrey. Her previous books include Women, Writing and Religion in England and Beyond, 650–1100 (2019),...

View profile >

Latest Comments

Have your say!