From Adam's Rib? -- Women in Medieval and Renaissance Europe



According to the legal and religious (Catholic) doctrine of the age, women were considered inferior to men -- cut from Adam's rib (instead of being made in God's image like Adam himself), burdened with Eve's heritage of having brought original sin into the world, and "the weaker vessel," subjected either to the authority of their fathers or that of their husbands, with few, if any, rights of their own. Yet even then, from the heroic peasant girl Joan of Arc to queens such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Marguerite de Navarre, Isabella of Castile and (of course) Elizabeth I of England, and writers like Christine de Pizan, Moderata Fonte, Margery Kempe and Hildegard of Bingen, every so often women's voices did manage to be heard after all. This list brings together some of the era's major original sources with modern research and publications on the subject.

(NO historical fiction, please -- there are plenty of other lists for that already.)

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245 books · 128 voters · list created September 2nd, 2009 by Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) (votes) .
163 likes · 
Lists are re-scored approximately every 5 minutes.


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Comments Showing 1-22 of 22 (22 new)

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message 1: by Lobstergirl (new)

Lobstergirl Definitely not one of my strong suits. But I've got to give a big thumbs up for anyone named Hrotsvit of Gandersheim who had her works collected into a Florilegium.


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) :)

She was a nun and arguably the Middle Ages' first female dramatist. Actually her first name was Roswitha (at least that's how she is known in Germany) ... not sure how it morphed into "Hrotsvit" in English. Maybe just a matter of phonetics.


message 3: by 3535 (last edited Sep 03, 2009 03:05AM) (new)

3535 This reminds me of Hadewijch, a 13th-century mystic poet who is the bane of virtually all students of Dutch literature -- incredibly difficult to read in the original...

Do you learned ladies know her work? (I was surprised to see on the Goodreads catalogue that she has actually been translated into English).
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadewijch

How far do you take the Renaissance idea? (As well you know, different countries experienced their individual 'renaissances' at various periods between the 15th and 17th centuries; the Dutch Renaissance, for instance, is generally regarded to have been the middle decades of the 17th century). So, what about Anna Maria van Schurman, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Maria Sibylla Merian (of blessed memory)? Or are they too late for this list?

And shame upon you, U, for forgetting about our dear friends, Abelard and Heloise!

May I add some scholarly works on the topic?


message 4: by Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) (last edited Sep 03, 2009 06:59AM) (new)

Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) I did most certainly NOT forget Abelard and Louise -- how could I?! :) (See entries 42-45, as of current standing.) By all means, though, do add as much as you like ...

Thank you for adding Hadewijch's writings! They are, alongside those of Hildegard of Bingen, the subject of Ms. Dreyer's "Passionate Spirituality" (currently entry no. 54), but having already exhausted my 100 permitted entries, I knew I had to make sacrifices somewhere and rely on others to supplement the list with books solely dedicated to a single person/topic. But that's why lists ARE a joint project on Goodreads after all; unlike on Amazon where everybody creates their own lists and there are often hundreds of lists on essentially the same topic, with enormous overlap!

I purposely left out Sor Juana Inés and other writers of the late 17th century; the list's focus is really more on the Middle Ages and the early to mid-Renaissance. Even Antonia Fraser's "Weaker Vessel" is, strictly speaking, already stretching it time-wise; and I wouldn't have included it at all if it didn't do such a great job in tracing the prevailing attitudes all the way back to the Middle Ages and beyond. Indeed, if anything, that book shows how it was precisely over the course of the 17th century that attitudes began to change -- reinforcing once more the reasons why I limited myself to pre-Thirty Years' War Continental Europe and pre-Civil War England in the first place. (Besides, as for Sor Juana Inés, she lived in Mexico of course ... and the impact of the voyages of discovery, and of the expansion of people's image of the world, really is yet another element distinguishing attitudes up to the beginning of the 17th century from those beginning to form towards the end of that same century. I purposely kept the list's entries to Europe which, for all that vast parts of the population knew well into the 16th century, was the geographical as well as political and ideological limitation of their world.)


message 5: by 3535 (last edited Sep 03, 2009 09:24AM) (new)

3535 Oops! Please accept my sincere apologies: I don't know how I could have overlooked those entries! Should have known you wouldn't miss such an obvious choice. So sorry again.

I take your point about the 17th century and Sor Juana. You are quite right about things beginning to change in the 17th century. On this you may consult Ruth Bloch's Gender and Morality in Anglo-American Culture, 1650-1800 (the opening essay argues for a change happening in the mid to late 17th century which seperates the 16-17th centuries from the 18-19th regarding attitudes to women, family, love and marriage etc. Lawrence Stone noted a similar change in his now classic, The family, sex and marriage in England 1500-1800, though he advances different reasons for the change).

Is the list meant only for 'exceptional' women, i.e. those who somehow stood out, be it as writers, artists or rulers? I am more interested in the general role and perception of women in the early modern period (in fact, my interest lies closer to family history than to gender history, although the two of course overlap).


message 6: by 3535 (new)

3535 I forgot to thank you, U, for starting such an interesting list (before this week I did not know of the existence of these lists, but I thanks to you I now do!), I have already learned much from this one and am sure to do even more in the future. The history of women and the family is something I am particularly interested in, although my focus is more the early modern era than the Middle Ages.

The variety and scope of your interests and knowledge never cease to amaze and astonish (and humble!) me.


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Oh, it's any- and everything to do with women's role in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. We know of the individual examples I named just BECAUSE they were exceptional ... but when I first created the list, I, too, started out with a number of general introductions on the subject and anthologies covering a whole range of subtopics, and very much dealing with every day life as well, in order to place the writings and biographies of these exceptional women into a broader context. So anything you can add along those lines will be very welcome ... as your contributions generally are, not least because unlike you I'm a complete amateur when it comes to history (as well as many other topics!), and my reading -- such as it is -- is essentially hodge podge and barely scratches the surface.

So now that you've discovered these lists, why not create one of your own ... ? I'd love to see what topic you would pick, and which books you'd select.


message 8: by 3535 (new)

3535 Great! I'll start adding some titles here, especially on single women who are fascinating because of their surviving despite their unusual position (hmmm, this does raise the issue of witchcraft as well... but I'll be disciplined and sure to only add books with the word 'women' in it and dealing with your period and place). Btw, if you are interested in this topic, a great resource is http://www.iisg.nl/womhist/vivahome.php -- a very useful online database of work written on women's history.

I've been thinking of creating a list about the Enlightenment. Now that you have thrown the gauntlet... Slavery would also be interesting, but where to start?!! And how to restrict one to 100 titles?!! This may just become a curse!

PS. Never underestimate your knowledge and reading -- they are both extraordinary by anybody's standards!!


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Yours are great additions; thanks for every single one of them! The entries on single women and on women's emerging visibility/contributions to public life (work, politics) especially look interesting.

Agreed, also, that witchcraft is a spectre that's raised almost automatically by a study of women's role during that area; I, too, have been tempted to include something to that effect, but in the end chose to limit myself to anthologies and analyses that include witchcraft only as one of their respective topics and place it in context with other aspects of women's lives.

Incidentally, I'd been thinking of next creating something Enlightenment-related as well, so why don't we continue our collaboration there? The 100-book limitation is a challenge of course and will require us to set certain boundaries (topically, time-wise, etc.), but then it's at least 100 books per person ... ;)

A curse perhaps this isn't, but an addiction certainly! (Now, slavery ... let's not even go there. Yet!!)


message 10: by 3535 (new)

3535 Okay, gladly! I'll prefer to add the scholarly overviews and background discussions to the Enlightenment (I was taken to task last year at a conference for daring to write the word like that -- many scholars prefer nowadays 'the enlightenments'!); you can do the philosophers and their texts? But I won't be able to add much before about Tuesday or Wednesday next week at the earliest...


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Just a brief message because I'm about to log off for the day (though probably not for the week): Agreed on the division of labor on Enlightenment -- which I'll also gladly continue spell that way, incidentally, my understanding of course being informed by my mother tongue, where "Aufklärungen" is a completely different kettle of fish than "Aufklärung"!

Next week is fine with me; that at least will give me time to compile a few notes on what to include ...

A tip on using books from outside the Goodreads database, btw: I simply tend to look up titles elsewhere (e.g., on Amazon), then copy and paste their ISBN numbers into the "find/add books to the list" search field ... and lo'n behold, even if author and title didn't get you what you wanted, ISBN usually does. (Numbers only though; i.e., "1234567891," not "ISBN 1234567891.")


message 12: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Wow, great list!


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Thank you! :)


message 14: by Bettie (new)

Bettie Is The Tudor Queen a little late for this list?


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) The Tudors are/were Renaissance. Any nonfiction on the era is more than welcome!


message 16: by Bettie (new)

Bettie Themis-Athena wrote: "The Tudors are/were Renaissance. Any nonfiction on the era is more than welcome!"

Thanks Themis, then I have oopins more to add to your list!

:O)


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Good -- the more the merrier! :)


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

Good list! I plopped another 20 or so books onto it. Mostly about 11-14th century religious women.


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Great, thank you very much -- just the kind of contribution this list needs! :)


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

Just added Medieval Women: Social History of Women in England, 450-1500. I'm currently trying to learn about Anchorites and this list should give me some more suggestions. Thanks


Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large) Thanks in turn. Another great addition!


message 22: by Lisa (new)

Lisa I'm not sure whether this covers this period because I've only just bought it and haven't read it yet - but perhaps The Obstacle Race: The Fortunes of Women Painters and Their Work by Germaine Greer might be relevant?


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