- About This Issue
We are delighted to present Women’s Literary Culture and Late Medieval English Writing as the inaugural issue for The Chaucer Review’s entry into its second half-century. The six essays presented here demonstrate how thoroughly medieval women’s engagement in literary culture has become—and how thoroughly it deserves to be—an intrinsic element in our understanding of English literary tradition.
The literary landscape since this journal began in 1966—at a time when the canon consisted mainly of male authors—has certainly changed, as we all know and applaud. The texts of many foundational women writers—Marie de France, Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich, Christine de Pisan—have been treated to numerous modern editions, lucid translations, and piercing evaluations and critiques. The study of medieval literary culture has been transformed by ground-breaking works of broadly conceived feminist literary criticism. And the domain of Chaucer studies, the particular concern of this journal, has been completely revamped and enlarged by the many voices of those involved in feminist and gender studies.
Guest editors Liz Herbert McAvoy and Diane Watt have set the focus of this issue upon the scholarly divide that sometimes still tends to separate “female” and “male” literary traditions. It is not just that male medieval writers receive more scholarship than do women medieval writers. It is also that there sometimes seems to be an implicit bias, or hierarchy, in the assigned directions of perceived influence. We tend to think far more about women [End Page 1] readers of Chaucer than about male readers of Kempe, more about the men whose books Chaucer and Julian would have known than about the women whose books they may also have read.
The essays in this issue collectively challenge this hierarchy. Treating women’s literature in the broad sense of texts by female authors, directed toward female readers, and/or focused on female characters, the authors start with the premise that women and men can think in similarly interesting ways. Amy Appleford reads Hoccleve’s A Complaint alongside Julian’s A Revelation of Love for their parallel, culturally-informed inquiries into suffering. Diane Watt examines the Middle English Pearl and Goscelin of St. Bertin’s Latin Liber confortatorius as mutually illuminating in their treatment of absent women. Nancy Bradley Warren sees the Syon and Amesbury nuns who owned secular manuscripts of Chaucer, Lydgate, and Hoccleve as engaged with those authors’ ideas about proper conduct. Corinne Saunders considers how medieval notions about the female psyche affected authorial presentation, especially in romance. Liz Herbert McAvoy projects the visionary Mechtild of Hackeborn as central to a dialogue about late medieval English devotional writings authored by both women and men. Drawing this journal into twentieth-century modernism, Marea Mitchell analyzes two of Virginia Woolf ’s texts—an essay on the Paston letters and a story about a woman scholar studying medieval life—for how this great writer postulated medieval culture as one shaped by ordinary experiences and recorded perceptively by voices both male and female.
Together with Watt and McAvoy’s introduction, the six essays included here delineate how rich in intergender concerns and influences was medieval English literary culture. We hope that you find each one mentally invigorating and full of challenge and promise for the future of Chaucer studies. [End Page 2]