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Lesbian Historic Motif Project: #37 - Bullough & Brundage 1996 Handbook of Medieval Sexuality

Full citation: 

Bullough, Vern L. & James A. Brundage. 1996. Handbook of Medieval Sexuality. Garland Publishing, New York. ISBN 0-8153-3662-4 [see also the following, only these articles covered]

Publication summary: 

The 1996 collection Handbook of Medieval Sexuality should be viewed in light of its chronology in the emerging field of the history of historic gender and sexuality studies. There are weaknesses both in the starting assumptions of some authors and in the available groundwork.

I’ve already blogged the important article by Murray (Twice Marginal and Twice Invisible), and will be covering Bullough’s “Cross Dressing and Gender Role Change in the Middle Ages”. But I’m going to deviate from my single-article approach today to give brief notes on the other 16 articles in this collection. These articles do not touch on lesbian activity and concerns specifically (and may not even include lesbian topics in passing). In some cases, the topic of the article pretty much excludes the content from relevance. To some extent, this survey serves to emphasize that unless the topics of women or lesbians are a specific focus of research, they are likely to be overlooked entirely.

* * *

Sexual Norms

Payer, Pierre J. – “Confession and the Study of Sex in the Middle Ages” - Reviews the usefulness of penitential manuals for the study of sexual activity and attitudes thereto. This article talks about issues and problems of this genre as a source but does not go into detail on content. (Content relating to female same-sex activity has been discussed in other LHMP entries.) There is an extensive bibliography of both primary and secondary sources on penitentials

Brundage, James A. – “Sex and Canon Law” - Discusses the philosophical and cultural background for the Christian church’s interest in the sexual activity of its members.

Cadden, Joan – “Western Medicine and Natural Philosophy” - A general survey of medieval European medical literature, including the topics most relevant to gender, sexuality, and reproduction. Brief discussion of “sexual frustration” as a medical condition, including prescriptions for masturbation as a treatment, which comes to include sexual activity between women. But in general dismissal of woman-woman sexual activity as a topic of medical concern.

Salisbury, Joyce E. – “Gendered Sexuality” - Medieval attitudes toward differences in male and female sexuality. Notes classical and medieval beliefs that women had a higher sex drive than men. [Note: this is particularly relevant in countering the image of lesbian sexuality being constrained by the view of women being more sexually passive.] Significant discussion of sex and humoral theory.

McGlynn, Margaret & Richard J. Moll – “Chaste Marriage in the Middle Ages: ‘It were to hire a greet merite’” - Discussion of the Christian ascetic ideal of abstaining from sex entirely, even within marriage. Not really relevant to the project.

Murray, Jacqueline – “Hiding Behind the Universal Man: Male Sexuality in the Middle Ages” - Not relevant.

Variance from Norms

Johansson, Warren & William A. Percy – “Homosexuality” - This is, alas, one of those articles that confirms the rule of them that if a male academic writes a work with the words “homosexual” or “gay” in the title, it’s safe to assume that women aren’t even on the radar.

Karras, Ruth Mazo – “Prostitution in Medieval Europe” - Not relevant.

Riddle, John M. – “Contraception and Early Abortion in the Middle Ages” - Not relevant.

Kuefler, Mathew S. – “Castration and Eunuchism in the Middle Ages” - Not relevant. (Although several of the articles on the motif of “women cross-dressing to enter monasteries” note that the social recognition of eunuchs created a physical category of men that was relatively easier for women to carry off.)

Cultural Issues

Roth, Norman – “A Note on Research into Jewish Sexuality in the Medieval Period” - No relevant material.

Roth, Norman – “A Research Note on Sexuality and Muslim Civilization” - Survey of medieval Arabic literature relating to love and sex. There is one brief reference to the 11th c. female poet Wallada, in al-Andalus, who had both male and female lovers.

Levin, Eve – “Eastern Orthodox Christianity” - No relevant material. Brief reference to attitudes towards acts “against nature” but appears to cover men only.

Finke, Laurie – “Sexuality in Medieval French Literature: ‘Separés, on est Ensemble’” - No relevant material. Very theory-centered.

Jochens, Jenny – “Old Norse Sexuality: Men, Women, and Beasts” - Interesting details on how attraction, affection, and sex are depicted in Old Norse literature, but nothing directly relevant to the current project.

Lampe, David – “Sex Roles and the Role of Sex in Medieval English Literature” - No relevant material.

Event / person: 

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