Jeff's Reviews > What Nuns Read: Books and Libraries in Medieval English Nunneries

What Nuns Read by David N. Bell
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's review
Jul 11, 08

bookshelves: history-medieval, monasticism-medieval, books-on-books
Read in January, 2008

Extremely intresting book! Sounds like a dry topic perhaps, but really very fascinating. David Bell, who has written a number of other books on medieval books and libraries, gives an over view of the role that books and libraries played in the lives of medieval nuns and nunneries.

Chapter One gives details concerning the financial situation of various nunneries, and how that correlates with their aquisition of books. This is somewhat tedious reading, but it sheds a great amount of light on the living conditions of nuns, and shows the great disparity between life at wealthy vs. life at a poor (which most were) nunneries.

Chapter Two is where things get really interesting as Bell spells out the details of the books and libraries of nunneries: What books were used, how/where they were kept, rules governing the library, etc. For those who love books and libraries, this is fascinating stuff.

Chapter Three delves into the intellectual lives of nuns. Here Bell looks at education within nunneries, literacy rates, etc. This chapter gives even greater detail to the picture of nunnery life.

The second part of this book is basically a catalog listing books by title and author that we know were kept in the libraries of medieval English nunneries. This is essential information for anyone who wants to do serious research into the literary and intellecutal lives of medieval nuns. And is very interesting for anyone who simply might want to read the same works that medieval nuns read.

My only criticism of the book is that the books in Part Two are listed by nunnery, and then by author. There isn't a comprehensive list of books by author. So, for example, to find out which works by Bernard of Clairvaux were in the libraries, you have to look through the lists under each individual nunnery. To do this for every author you might be interested in would be extremely tedious and time consuming. By comparison, Bell's other book, An Index of Authors and Works in Cistercian Libraries in Great Britain lists everything by Author (or title, if no author is given) making it a snap to see at a glance which works by which authors were available in which libraries.

Over all, this is a very interesting and highly recommended book for those interested in Medieval nuns, nunneries, or libraries.
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message 1: by Noran (new)

Noran Miss Pumkin Excellent review!


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