contributor.author: Rebecca Krug

title.none: Olson and Kerby-Fulton, eds., Voices in Dialogue (Rebecca Krug)

identifier.other: baj9928.0610.013 06.10.13

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Rebecca Krug, University of Minnesota, krugx001@umn.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Olson, Linda, and Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, eds. Voices in Dialogue: Reading Women in the Middle Ages. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005. Pp. xvii, 508. $50.00 (hb) ISBN 10: 0-268-03717-5 ISBN 13: 978-0-268-03717-3. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.10.13

Olson, Linda, and Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, eds. Voices in Dialogue: Reading Women in the Middle Ages. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005. Pp. xvii, 508. $50.00 (hb) ISBN 10: 0-268-03717-5 ISBN 13: 978-0-268-03717-3. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Rebecca Krug
University of Minnesota
krugx001@umn.edu

This is a collection of essays about "texts...how they were written and how they were read by both women and men from the fourth to the sixteenth centuries" (xiv). Although not explicitly represented by its apparatus, the book falls into two halves. The first concerns a wide range of subjects from late antiquity and the earlier Middle Ages and focuses on the Continent. The second looks, primarily, at late medieval English texts, and is especially concerned with the relationship between the vernacular and religious culture. In both halves, essays are paired (this forms the "dialogue" of the title) with the second essay responding to the first. Some respondents broaden the context of the first piece. Others focus on particular aspects of their partners' arguments. The most engaging couplings tend to be those in which scholars disagree, such as Jaeger and Constable's debate over the authorship of an anonymous letter collection and Watson and Riddy's contrasting essays about late medieval authorship.

The first group of essays range from chapters on readers of and respondents to Augustine and Anselm (Conybeare and Vessey; Morrow and Bell), to a debate over the authorship of a letter collection sometimes ascribed to Heloise and Abelard (Jaeger and Constable), to essays on the nuns at Admont, an Austrian monastery, in the twelfth century (Beach and Van Engen). One of the strengths of this part of the book is the comparative context it provides. Differences in time and place offer useful frames for thinking beyond national and period- based divides. Indeed, the second essay in each of these pairs tends to contextualize the argument presented in the first essay. Vessey, for example, broadens Conybeare's discussion by offering a general treatment of women's participation in literate culture; Bell extends Morrow's analysis by writing about the ways that prayers were read in communal life; Constable provides a succinct account of medieval letter writing traditions in his response to Jaeger's study; Van Engen surveys material related to women's involvement with writing in the twelfth century, relating Beach's piece to the "big picture."

Essays in the first half of the book consider the possibility of studying women's influence on literate culture. Despite the fact that relatively few works by women remain, the authors of these essays believe we should work creatively with all sources (not just those that are clearly the products of women's pens) that have survived. Conybeare, for example, studies Augustine's letters for what they can tell us about his female correspondents (whose letters are not extant); Morrow looks at Anselm's prayers as evidence for thinking about the relationship between male and female religious communities; Jaeger analyzes the anonymous letter collection in relation to style and gender; Beach thinks about women's literacy by considering scribal activity when nuns listened to sermons and copied them down.

Standing between the two halves of the book is a pair of essays, by Alcuin Blamires and Barbara Newman, about women and creativity. This coupling, shifting between Continental and English concerns, forms a bridge between the volume's two parts. Blamires surveys a number of literary texts written by men and women to explore the ways they figure women's creativity: he concludes that "the creative intelligence of women remained an open mattter in the Middle Ages" (226). Newman responds by arguing that medieval writers employed allegorical women as figures of wisdom so that "Denied or mystified at the level of empirical reality, women's intelligence returns, enveloped in a numinous aura, at the level of the symbolic" (236).

The second half of the book, chapters six through eleven, focuses on England (or, rather, on English-related issues, such as Wycliffitism) and the subject of "vernacular theology." Pairs six and seven show how central Lollardy has become to the study of late medieval England. Six looks directly at the influence of this subject on the field. In her essay, Fiona Somerset considers the ways that academic, Wycliffite writing by men was "not hospitable" to women. Kathryn Kerby-Fulton responds by pushing beyond the frame of Lollardy, arguing for a broader, European, apocalyptic context for understanding Wycliffite writing. Similarly, Thomas and Elliot, pair seven, relate English Wycliffism to European concerns. Thomas offers a reading of a Czech satire about a "Wycliffite Woman" as the focus of his essay. The subject of the poem is "the female heretic as sexual predator" (302), according to Elliot, and she notes that such a representation is illustrative of differences between Bohemia and England.

Pairs eight and nine (Zieman and Fassler; Schirmer and Justice) move from heresy to orthodoxy. Zieman and Fassler write about the Bridgettine liturgy. Zieman argues for the "imaginative possibilities" that the liturgy offered women; Fassler takes this idea further, showing that those possibilites extended to the laity. Interest in Bridgettine spirituality extends to the next pair. In chapter nine, Elizabeth Schirmer uses a reading of the Myroure of Oure Ladye to argue for the English Bridgettine Syon Abbey as a "safe haven" for vernacular theology. Moving beyond Syon, Steven Justice takes up the subject of strictures against lay vernacular reading (Arundel's Constitutions) in relation to a text mentioned in Schirmer's essay, The Chastising of God's Children. He argues for the importance of considering "the formal rather than the social properties of the vernacular" as it attracted clerical writers.

The last four essays in the book are about Margery Kempe. All are concerned with the relationship between writing, lay women's spirituality, and orthodoxy. Nicholas Watson and Felicity Riddy write about the process of the Book's composition. Watson thinks about the Book's theology by analyzing the language of the text to reconstruct Kempe's ideas as distinguished from those of her scribes; Riddy rejects this "author-centered" approach, insisting it oversimplifies the process of writing and remembering. Gertz-Robinson and Wallace take up the subject of women and preaching. Gertz-Robinson observes that Margery Kempe and Anne Askew both defined preaching in relation to space. Wallace responds by broadening Gertz-Robinson's analysis to include men, the visual arts, and Continental writing.

For several of this volume's contributors, the study of medieval religion has been a central, career-long concern: many of the essays in this collection repay study simply for the easy familiarity they exhibit with devotional culture and religious, intellectual history. This is a fine collection of essays. It adds to the growing body of scholarship on women and literate culture in the medieval period.