Skip to content Skip to navigation

LHMP

Blog entry

OK, I confess that once I hit the “this is going to be lit crit” part of this article, and I already knew it wasn’t going to be strongly relevant to the Project, I didn’t really even skim the rest of the article. But if lit crit is your thing, hey, that’s ok!

Once again, this article takes women’s lives and makes them all about the men. It feels like there are entirely too many articles in this collection that fall in that category. The genre of “widow portraits” in early modern England are a testament to men’s anxiety that maybe--just-maybe--their wives aren’t quite as in love with them as they seem.

One can pretty much guarantee that any general discussion of women in medieval England is going to talk about Chaucer’s Wife of Bath eventually. This collection gets double-duty from her. It isn't that there aren't other women (and actual, rather than fictitious, women) that appear in texts of the same era. But academia has always been fond of anointing specific figures and stories as central, iconic representations and then building analytic industries around them.

The use of the word “sely” in this paper’s title is likely to be confusing to anyone not versed in the historic development of the word. Originally (in Anglo Saxon) “saelig” meant “blessed, holy” and was typically applied to religious figures.

I am, of course, quite familiar with John Lyly’s delightfully queer play Gallathea, in which we have two--count them, two!--cross-dressing heroines who inadvertently fall in love with each other. And who still proclaim their devotion and intent never to be parted after they find out their beloved’s true identity. But I hadn’t been aware that Lyly made a career from framing heterosexual marriage as a dispreferred alternative. This article situates it in the political context of Queen Elizabeth I’s singlehood.

This is my favorite article out of the entire collection, at least in terms of usefulness for research into potential character data. Not only does it review the data and attitudes about never-married women in 16-17th century England, but it goes in depth into an economic strategy that was differentially more available to single women than to wives. I’m tucking this tidbit away in my file of “strategies for independent female characters”.

I found this a rather frustrating article within the context of a collection supposedly focusing on women. Because it makes the women’s single status all about how they serve as “currency” in the male establishment of prowess and reputation. I mean, it’s a valid observation about chivalric literature, but I wish space had been given to an article that focused more on women. Goodness knows there are interesting things to be said about singlewomen in chivalric literature who have agency within their own stories.

This is a rather delightful analysis that puts a different interpretation on the motif of “Christ as bridegroom” for virgin saints. I like the idea of Katherine as simply resisting marriage in general as unnecessary and only belatedly realizing that holy virginity was a tool she could employ to that end. Or rather, that this interpretation could be developed by medieval writers in the context of popularizing marriage resistance outside the convent.

Every once in a while, you find people in history almost stumbling across some fairly radical ideas. In this case, the use of women’s resistance to marriage as a symbol of resistance to unwanted control and authority in general. Alas, the men using the analogy never quite take the last step. Further, there is a double-edged sword in the idea that the only approved alternative to heterosexual marriage is marriage to the church. As I mentioned on Monday, I'm adding in this extra entry this week to make up for the fairly content-free introduction chapter.

In the context of doing a podcast on the usefulness of singlewomen studies, I plunged into this collection that I picked up at Kalamazoo this year. (Thereby also fulfilling my pledge to try to prioritize new book acquisitions.) There are several really fascinating articles for my purpose, especially one on singlewomen in the profession of moneylender.

Pages

Subscribe to LHMP