Saturday, April 8, 2006

Introducing the "Really Dead Women Writers" Meme

Bardiac has bothered to put in writing what I also thought when I saw the "Women Writers Meme" around the b-sphere (most recently at Badger's place): Where are the pre-1800 women writers on that list?

Go read Bardiac's post, because everything she says is what I would've said, including the part about other feminists not taking you and your work seriously if you work on early literature. And that includes student feminists who, no matter how many times you tell them they're seriously over-simplifying matters (or just plain wrong), write papers about anchoresses that argue that the women were being 'locked up' by patriarchy. Never mind that there were male anchorites. Never mind that maybe a life of reading and prayer and being considered a source of wisdom by townspeople and visitors alike might be more appealing than, say, having 14 kids all 14 of which might have killed you in childbirth. Never mind that being an anchoress could be read as a medieval version of a "room of one's own." Sigh.

Anyway, Bardiac has proposed we put together our own list of pre-1800 women writers (those of us who work in those fields or have read widely in them). She's already taken some of the medieval goodies (I shake my fist at you, Bardiac!) but there are more I can add. So here's Bardiac's list with my additions (and I changed some of Bardiac's links to translations I prefer):


Behn, Aphra - Oroonoko

Christine de Pisan (aka Pizan) - The Book of the City of Ladies

Julian of Norwich - Revelations of Divine Love

Locke, Anne (aka Ane Lok, etc) - A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner

Marie de France - The Lais of Marie de France

The Paston Women - The Paston Letters

Margery Kempe - The Book of Margery Kempe

Anonymous - The Floure and the Leafe
(I am convinced the writer was a women. Unless you can name a medieval dream vision where the dreamer was not a persona of the author -- and therefore the same gender -- I stand by my convinction.)

Lady Mary Wroth - Poems

There's more I could add, but I'll leave it to others. Don't want to hog them all!

Update: I was supposed to add five texts and I only added 4. D'oh! Oh well -- more for others to play with! And they've already begun: Medieval Woman, La Lecturess, and Amanda at Household Opera. And if you add more to the list, don't forget to visit Bardiac or drop her a line at bardiacblogger at yahoo dot com, so she can compile the whole list.

Oh, and also, Christine de Pisan and Marie de France wrote other texts -- feel free to add those to your list!


Anonymous said...

By the same token, I'm convinced that the person who wrote Assembly of Ladies was a woman as well!

Dr. Virago said...

I'm convinced of that, too, but because it's not a dream vision (or is it?) I don't have a rational argument for my convinction!

medieval woman said...

Hey Dr. V - I applaud you and Bardiac for this - I picked it up over at Chez Bloggez Moi.

Anonymous said...

Dr. V,

I only know that it's a dream vision because I just studied it for my Part Ones (shakes fist at Part Ones). It's a really wacky dream-vision at that!

Dr. Virago said...

Yup, that's the last time I read that text -- back in the last century. (Hee.) Thanks for reminding me it's a dream vision too. So OK then, Assembly of Ladies is also written by a woman!

Karl Steel said...

Who made the joke about 'Anonymous' probably being a woman? Was it Joan Ferrante, god bless her wonderful heart?

I see people have hit some of the big ones already. I'd like to believe that the Roman de Silence was written by a woman. Heldris of Cornwall is certainly a pseudonym, anyway.

Perpetua, Passions of Perpetua and Felicity.

Eloise's 1/2 of the correspondance.

The works of trobairitz.

If we wanted to include visionary literature on this, the list would easily fill up. So I'll avoid those. Hmmmm....

And...oh...isn't there some mother from the early Middle Ages (say, 7-8th c.) who wrote advice literature for her son? Can't remember her name right now; too tired; but perhaps someone else can come up with the name.

I know we're looking for things either dictated by or written by the women themselves, but I want some special pleading for Christina of Markyate and the similar story of Countess Yolanda.

And I wonder if the writer of 'Why I Can't be a Nun' (in TEAMS 6 Ecclesiastical Satires) is a woman? I hope not.

Karl Steel said...

Oh, and if we can do Christine de Pizan, I'd lobby for either the Book of the Path of Long Study or Christine's Vision, since both these works engage with Dante directly and put her, well, firmly within the bizarre realm of works like the Cosmographia and De Planctu Naturae (not in actual content but more in how utterly alien they are to modern sensibilities). So you'd get 2 birds w/ one stone: women's intellectual literature and forcing readers to engage with even the recent 15th century as a totally alien culture.

Dr. Virago said...

Karl, I think it was Virginia Woolf who first said 'Anon' was a woman. And Dhouda is the woman who wrote the guide for her son -- HeoCwaeth covered that one over at her blog.

I'm going to have to go check out that "Why I Can't Be a Nun" text now...Is it satirical? Usually the satirical poems voiced by a woman are very obviously clerkly humor.

I'm going to cut and paste your suggestions over at Bardiac's place, btw, including the other works by Christine you've mentioned.

Karl Steel said...

Cut and paste all you like! Thanks!

I wrote both my MA's on WICBAN, so perpetual dibs on it! Or not: but someday I'll publish something on it if I ever decide to get back into 15th-c. vernacular piety.

Here's the story: father receives a fellow on a horse who's been checking out nunneries as far away as Kent (I think WICAN is East Anglian for various reasons). He hears that nunneries are awful places, full of immorality, and so refuses his daughter's request to become a nun. She goes off in a huff to the garden, where she promptly has a sleeping vision. Dame Experience (!) comes to her and takes her to an allegorical nunnery (think: Abbey of the Holy Spirit, which is a Rolleian (sp?) sort of work) full of allegorical figures of vice. She wakes up and addresses the reader: keep these lady saints in mind (here follows a list of East Anglian saints, focused on those around Ely) and be holy at home. The poem is missing both its beginning and ending stanzas and some parts of the middle, too.

What criticism it's received has classified it as a Chanson de nonne, which were works about nuns who joined (or were made to join) orders and wanted out because they wanted some hump, somewhere. So that's an obvious misclassification. Dean was right to classify it as an ecclesiastical satire (although his introduction isn't really on, otherwise).

The work seems like a more or less straightforward* imposition of patriarchal authority (including the insinuation that women can't learn except through Experience), so I'd like to believe that the Katherine who narrates it is a female voice invented by a man.

* But it's warning to "beware the immorality that cometh of sensuality" is odd, since Experience, I'd guess, is a mode of learning based in the senses. So there's a blah blah irresolvable contradiction in its foundation blah blah typical poststructuralist reading blah blah.

Dr. Virago said...

So there's a blah blah irresolvable contradiction in its foundation blah blah typical poststructuralist reading blah blah.


But hmm, yes, this does "problematize" (ugh) my assertion that the dreamer is a persona of the author. Gr. Well, I *still* think The Floure and the Leafe was by a woman. So there!

But what's up with using the Anglo-Saxon saints of Ely as exemplars of staying holy at *home*?! Aethelthrith was a nun and an abbess, her sister Seaxburh was a nun, and so on. Weird.

Bardiac said...

Hi Dr. V! Thanks for contributing to the meme! I'm trying to pull things together a bit to make a fuller post soon. :)

Karl Steel said...


I was hoping I'd noticed that saints thing way back during the MAs: thank olaf I did. I made a brief argument that WICBAN extends its surveillance over poor Katherine by appropriating for its purposes the saintly models that women might have considered to develop an independent mode of sanctity. Phwew!

Dr. Virago said...

Karl -- I'm having a tonal problem in reading your last comment. I didn't piss you off, did I? You didn't think I thought *you* hadn't noticed that those saints weren't exactly homebodies, did you? I was just wondering wtf was up with WICBAN and how it managed to turn "I refuse to have sex with my husband (because I know it's the only way I'll be independent)" Aethelthryth into a model of domestic tranquility.

Karl Steel said...

Gosh no! You didn't piss me off. I'm grumpy but not that grumpy!

I feel as though there's a study somewhere on the problem of email and the lack of verbal cues: but the battery almost dead on my laptop and I'm sleepy.

But w. WICBAN. Yeah! Totally! WTF!

Sorry if I worried you.