Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

Previous Articles of the Month

November 2023

Chaucer as a pilgrim from the Ellesmere manuscript
Chaucer as a pilgrim, Ellesmere Manuscript, ca. 1400-05, British, San Marino, California, Huntington Museum, Ms. EL 26 C9, , f. 153v (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Baechle, Sarah. "Speaking Survival: Chaucer Studies and the Discourses of Sexual Assault." Chaucer Review 57, 4 (2022): 463-474.

Abstract: "This article addresses the discursive perspectives of survivor speech as they inform discussions of Chaucer's rape narratives. Responding to Euan Roger and Sebastian Sobecki's discoveries that the Chaumpaigne release did not address an accusation of rape, I argue that they offer Chaucer scholars a chance to transform our approaches to the poet and the subject of sexual violence. No longer burdened with assessing Chaucer's guilt or Chaumpaigne's victimization, we may adopt, instead, a structural approach, examining how Chaucer's rape narratives reproduce harmful myths about women, sex, consent that perpetuate assault. The article explores the Reeve's Tale as an example of this approach." — [Reproduced from the article page of the Chaucer Review on the Scholarly Publishing Collective website. Also available through Project Muse]

October 2023

Photo of the fresco Massacre of the Innocents by the artist Giotto di Bondone
Giotto, Massacre of the Innocents, Padua, Scrovegni Chapel, ca. 1304-1306, Italian (Source: Wikimedia Commons- Attribution- CC BY-SA 4.0)

Wolfthal, Diane Bette. "Women Who Refuse to Mother: Complicating the Ideology of Motherhood in Northern European Art, 1400-1600." Different Visions: New Perspectives on Medieval Art 8 (2022). Available open access: https://differentvisions.org/women-who-refuse-to-mother/ This issue is a celebration of the work of Rachel Dressler.

Abstract: "In the Middle Ages, as today, the ideology of motherhood held sway, that is, the belief that women are naturally loving mothers who will protect their children at any cost. Yet there were always some women who, upon giving birth, could not or would not care for their child. Then, as now, two options that were available to them were murder and abandonment. Sara McDougall recently stated that “pardons are almost all of what scholars of medieval France have to work with at present.” This may be true of historians of law, but scholars in other fields may explore the numerous cultural productions that represent infanticide, such as songs, visual imagery, and mystery plays. This essay explores the murder and abandonment of unwanted children primarily through images that were produced in northern Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It begins by demonstrating the critical role that representations of men committing infanticide played in supporting the ideology of motherhood. Then it examines works that contradict or complicate this ideology: images that served in the execution of a woman convicted of killing her newborn, scenes of women killing their infants, and those that portray hospitals caring for foundlings. In doing so, this study asks two related questions: How did visual representations of infanticide reinforce or resist the ideology of motherhood? And how did images of infanticide and foundling hospitals represent or fail to represent women who refused to mother?" — [Reproduced from the article page of Different Visions

September 2023

Image of a page from a medieval manuscript
Faith (Fides) opposes Worship of the Gods (Cultura Deorum), Prudentius, Psychomachia, ca. 900, German (Source: e-codices, CC BY-NC 4.0- Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International ) Manuscript description.

Breen, Katharine. "Personification and Gender Fluidity in the Psychomachia and Its Early Reception." Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies 97, 4 ( 2022): Pages 965 - 1011. Available with a subscription: https://doi.org/10.1086/721645

Abstract: This essay argues against the widespread critical assumption that the Psychomachia’s personifications of Virtues are poorly executed allegorical goddesses. On the contrary, it finds that the Virtues’ transgressions of gender norms were central to Prudentius’s poetic project and were generally understood and appreciated as such by the poem’s late classical readers. Reading the Psychomachia alongside several early responses to Prudentius’s work—including the letters of Sidonius Apollinaris, Avitus of Vienne’s verse epistle De consolatoria castitatis laude, and the advice treatise Ad Gregoriam in palatio—demonstrates that Prudentius and his late classical readers and imitators valued personifications as sites of gender fluidity and gender transformation. These fifth- and sixth-century texts encourage men to use personification to imagine themselves as women, and women to use personification to imagine themselves as men, while projecting a state between genders or beyond gender as the ideal human condition. Although the gender identities imagined in these texts are not progressive in the modern sense of the term, and indeed depend on elements of deep-seated misogyny, they collectively map out a much broader and more flexible sex-gender system than the one assumed by the Psychomachia’s twentieth-century critics." — [Reproduced from the article page of Speculum from the University of Chicago Press website]

July 2023

Buckle plate from a jeweled belt belonging to a Merovingian woman of high status, constructed of silver, plate glass, and garnet
Buckle plate from a jeweled belt belonging to a Merovingian woman of high status, ca. 630, Paris, Musée d'Archéologie Nationale de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, (Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 4.0) It was previously believed that the grave goods from the church of Saint Denis belonged to Queen Arégonde, wife of Clothar I, King of the Franks

Cudorge, Justine. "Women's Quarters, an Influential and Political Pole: A Study of the Frankish Inner-Court (Sixth-Seventh Century)." Royal Studies Journal 9, 1 (2022): 18-132. Available open access.

Abstract: "The question of women exercising power and influence appears to be central, if not fundamental, to gender studies, as it allows an in-depth reflection on both societal norms and the way we perceive them today. The historian's vision has been biased for a long time by a dichotomic consideration of society, with a clear gendered partition where women would have been confined to the private, domestic sphere. Their actions were thus perceived as inconsequential at best, invisible at worst, for they were perpetually limited to private quarters and familial intimacy, while men's authority and actions supposedly influenced the public sphere and politics in a larger measure. It would be a mistake, however, to keep considering that politics and familial intimacy should be studied separately. The palace environment in particular proves to be especially favorable to women's authority, for they often benefit from a specific access to the sovereign that even major dignitaries can be deprived of, seeing as they are generally not received privately by the ruling dynasty. Studying women's quarters thus brings to light a mosaic of interdependent relationships, of intercessors, factional processes, and intricate political networks. Although women can be, and often are, limited in some specific ways, such as their physical presence within the public space, they can still achieve political relevance and play a key role within the palace hierarchy and court mechanics. In other words, women are not only instrumental in displaying royal authority but can, at times, fully embody it without specifically causing a break with tradition. Merovingian private quarters in particular offer a very meaningful example, in that they are a reflection of the Merovingian matrimonial practice—polygyny. By multiplying the female pole within the palatial structure, power and authority come into play, taking various shapes and influencing many areas of the political and private life of the sovereign." — [Reproduced from the article page on the Royal Studies Journal site]

June 2023

Photo of artwork on the wall of a catacomb
Dominik Matus, Cerula framed by gospel books, late 5th- early 6th c., Naples, San Gennaro Catacombs, (Source: Wikimedia Commons, C.C. 4.0 license)

Vihervalli, Ulriika. "Wartime Rape in Late Antiquity: Consecrated Virgins and Victim Bias in the Fifth-Century West." Early Medieval Europe 30, 1 (2022): 3-19.

Abstract: "Late antique clerics rarely discussed wartime rape but singled out consecrated women as victims when they did. This emphasis testifies to the prominence of consecrated women by the fifth century, while inadvertently creating a victim bias. This paper examines this bias and puts forth a wider consideration of victims, including laywomen, children, and men. However, studies on wartime rape have shown that the rape of virgins is often treated differently from the violation of others. These findings are extended to holy virgins in late antiquity to offer new considerations of the grim success of rape as a weapon of war." — [Reproduced from the article page on the Wiley Online Library site] The article is available open access.

March 2023

A figure of a valkyrie, carved from silver.
Valkyrie figure, silver, 800-1099, Viking age, Sweden, Stockholm, History Museum (Source: Wikimedia Commons, C.C. 2.5 license)

Varnam, Laura. "Poems for the Women of Beowulf: A 'Contemporary Medieval' Project." Postmedieval 13, 1-2 (2022): 105-121.

Abstract: "This article is centred upon seven new poems from my poetry project inspired by the women of Beowulf. To contextualise the project, the poems are framed with a creative-critical reflection on their genesis in my undergraduate Beowulf class, where I teach the original poem through modern translation, adaptation, and creative response. I discuss my indebtedness to feminist scholarship on the 'overwhelmingly masculine' nature of Beowulf (Overing 1990) and briefly survey recent feminist translations and adaptations. I propose my poetry as a form of creative close reading and an example of Lees and Overing's 'contemporary medieval in practice' (Lees and Overing 2019). I also offer short notes on the poems and their relationship to questions of gender, voice, and autonomy." — [Reproduced from the article page in Springer Link]

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