Medieval Women's Writing
October 2007, Polity
Medieval Women's Writing addresses these key
- Who were the first women authors in the English canon?
- What do we mean by women's writing in the Middle Ages?
- What do we mean by authorship?
- How can studying medieval writing contribute to our understanding of women's literary history?
Diane Watt argues that female patrons, audiences, readers, and even subjects contributed to the production of texts and their meanings, whether written by men or women. Only an understanding of textual production as collaborative enables us to grasp fully women's engagement with literary culture. This radical rethinking of early womens literary history has major implications for all scholars working on medieval literature, on ideas of authorship, and on women's writing in later periods. The book will become standard reading for all students of these debates.
A Note on the Texts viii
1 Christina of Markyate (c.1096–after 1155) 19
2 Marie de France ( fl . 1180) 39
3 Legends and Lives of Women Saints (Late Tenth to Mid-Fifteenth Centuries) 63
4 Julian of Norwich (1342/3–after 1416) 91
5 Margery Kempe (c.1373–after 1439) 116
6 The Paston Letters (1440–1489) 136
Suggestions for Further Reading 176
- Textbook introduction to English women’s writing from the
- Expands the definition of medieval women’s writing by
including works which were written for women as well as by
- Pitched for students with no previous knowledge of the texts or
the period, with a clear writing style and an extensive annotated
further reading section
- Clearly structured with a careful selection of texts that maps
onto teaching in this area
- Will become a standard for teaching in this area
BBC History Magazine
"A careful and intelligent selection of some of the better-known
works either by, for or on behalf of women ... This [is a] highly
informed, well-researched, non-esoteric and thoroughly accessible
Times Higher Education Supplement
"Essential reading for student and academic alike."
"By combining a theoretically informed, inclusive theory of
textuality with persuasive readings of well-known and less-familiar
texts, Watt's study offers a valuable contribution to teaching and
"A rich study in literary sociology. The value of Watt's book is
to demonstrate not only that, but how, some medieval texts in
various genres have been negotiated and mediated."
Journal of English and Germanic Philology
"The book blends two philosophiesthat one might think
irreconcilable. First, the book is directed squarely (although not
exclusively) at university students. Second, the book includes the
kind of close and original readings of texts that a scholar might
normally reserve for a journal article or monograph. The fact that
Watt has blended these two seemingly separate activities is
wonderful to see - why shouldn't students be given the respect of
having new and original research directed straight at them?"
Medieval Feminist Forum
"Each chapter would be of interest to scholars of women in
medieval England, in particular those who work on Christina of
Markyate, Marie de France, legends and lives of women saints,
Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe and the Paston letters. Watt's
fine volume concludes with an extremely useful bibliography and
list of suggested readings."
The Year's Work in English Studies
"A useful addition not only to the work on medieval women
writers in particular, but to the history of women's writing in
general, making ever more apparent those foremothers whose absence
Virginia Woolf lamented."
"I am delighted by the appearance of this book. Lucidly written
for a general audience, Medieval Women's Writing is by far
the most interesting, balanced, and up-to-date study now in print.
But it is more than this: it is also a collection of original
readings of major women writers, which has new and often powerful
things to say about how we think about women's writing in the
premodern period, and about what it means to describe this writing
as a 'women's literary tradition'. Flexible, passionate, ethically
engaged, Medieval Women's Writing will be a valuable and
much-discussed resource for scholars, teachers, students, as well
as general readers."
Nicholas Watson, Harvard University
"Innovative, informative and accessible, this book is a
fundamental re-assessment of medieval women's writing. Watt's work
engages with women as writers and readers, as participants and
collaborators and, above all, as agents who shape medieval textual
production and reception. This is a book on women that is not
afraid to consider the early medieval period together with the
later Middle Ages. At last!"
Clare A. Lees, King's College London
"A useful, insightful, and bang up-to-date introduction to
medieval women's writing in England by a critic especially
sensitive to collaborative aspects of textual production.
David Wallace, University of Pennsylvania