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Reviews 229 Larrington, Carolyne, ed., Women and Writing in Medieval Europe: A Sourcebook, London and N e w York, Routledge, 1995; board; pp. xiv, 277; 14 b / w Ulustrations; R.R.P. US$69.95, £45.00. The avaUabiUty of primary texts in English translation which provide insights into the experience of w o m e n in the middle ages has been gradually increasing in the last few years. However the undergraduate student or general reader m a y feel daunted by the thought of approaching entire works; the provision of selections of texts such as those provided in Women and Writing in Medieval Europe: A Sourcebook aUows the reader to sample some of the thoughts, experiences and expectations of and for medieval women. The texts in this collection are arranged thematicaUy into chapters headed 'Marriage', 'Love, Sex and Friendship', 'Motherhood and Work', W o m e n and Christianity', 'Women and Power', 'Education and Knowledge', and 'Women and the Arts', and within these sections they are arranged chronologicaUy. This thematic arrangement is both useful and constructive, though the selection of documents is necessarily limited by the size and approach of the book. Such selection to a certain extent reflects both avaUabiUty of texts and the interests of the selector, as Larrington has pointed out in her Introduction. Her o w n Norse interests are evident and provide interesting insights to this relatively unrepresented national group. W o m e n as mothers, daughters, wives, nuns, lovers, workers, scholars, visionaries, fighters, artists and patrons of the arts are aU here for the general reader to become acquainted with. The problems of women's authorship and Uteracy are briefly but effectively discussed in the sections on education and the arts. However, in a work which is based on written texts for and by w o m e n it m a y have been more to the point to introduce, or at least foreshadow, this discussion in the general introduction. The work consists of a selection of texts which the author has sought to place in historical and institutional context. The introductory contextualisation for each of the thematic sections is necessarily generalised, given the broad chronological and geographical sweep of the work; nevertheless these are weU 230 Reviews compressed and provide for the general or non-expert reader some informative insights to the historical background which m a y be found in the non-literary materials not represented among the selected works. The task of making the 'kind of literary analysis . . . which the texts presented here demand' belongs to the reader. The author declares this to be a 'not-history' book and states that the work 'hies to bring together Uterature and history in a conjunction which makes clear the contingent and uncertain nature of the text as witness to Uved reatity, and of history as an interpretative key to literary texts.' (pp. 5-6) This, however, begs the question of the validity of deliberately selecting texts which are 'not-historical'. It is not altogether clear h o w the exclusion of non-Uterary or non-narrative texts serves the purpose of establishing an entree to the experience of w o m e n in the early, high and later middle ages. The time span (500-1500) covered by the selection of works is too great to allow for any simple survey of the historical contexts. I a m not altogether convinced that such a chronologically broad selection of texts as this can permit any valuable generalisation, especially when the extracts cannot be placed in contemporary context by a broader range of documents. The genre of the Sourcebook m a y have some value if the span is narrow enough to allow conclusions to be drawn by students, w h o are perhaps the most likely audience. The present necessarily smaU collection of extracts does not provide students with access to the experience of w o m e n of any particular period, or social or economic group. Too many changes had taken place during the period in the legal and social positions of the w o m e n of the various national groups represented. There are so many...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 229-231
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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