Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 3213
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Ward , Jennifer C.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Women and the Old English Benedictine "Rule": A Theory of Chaos and Masculine Incompetence [Seventh Biennial Meeting of the International Society of Anglo- Saxonists, "Old and New Ways in the Study of Anglo- Saxon Culture," Stanford University, August 6-12, 1995. Session 1].
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 28, 3 (Spring 1995):
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Æthelwold, Bishop of Winchester Manuscripts Monasticism Regula (Benedict of Nursia, Saint)
  • Award Note:
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 10
  • Primary Evidence:
  • Illustrations:
  • Table:
  • Abstract: On the strength of a handful of errors, most of them involving gender-specific pronouns, which he believed to have detected in manuscripts of the Old English Benedictine "Rule," A. Schröer, its editor, claimed that all surviving ("masculine") copies of the "Rule" derived from a "feminine" version. On the strength of this, some scholars assumed that Œthelwold's original translation had been for women. However, M. Gretsch re-examined Schröer's errors and dismissed out of hand their identity as "feminine" traces: there had no doubt been a women's version (one survives, but it was copied in the twelfth century), but feminine and masculine versions of the Old English translation had probably been made more or less simultaneously. My own reassessment of the evidence of the manuscripts of the "Rule" - not only the Old English texts but the Latin too, in both mono- and bilingual MSS - leads me to the following conclusions: (I) Œthelwold's original translation was made primarily for men and would have been grammatically masculine. (This fact is inescapable, if the celebrated tract on "King Edgar's establishment of the monasteries" be accepted as the work of Œthelwold, for it spells out quite unambiguously that the primary purpose of the Old English translation of the "Rule" was to help "men"). Why assume that women of the new houses in the second half of the tenth century were more in need of vernacular help than male recruits to the newly- or re-founded monasteries? (2) There is no firm evidence (although the idea is very plausible) that there was ever a completely feminine version in the tenth century. Nevertheless, I believe that Schröer's "feminine traces" cannot, after all, be dismissed: they do, in at least some cases, represent bodged efforts at gender-change in the text. Using the analogy of other much-used Old English texts, I suggest that, after masculine copies of the "Rule" had found their way, inevitably, into women's houses, a process of gender-change took place in the form of interlinear annotation. If such annotated copies were used for subsequent copying of the "Rule," contamination would soon occur; that is what we see traces of in the manuscripts. (3) The Latin versions transmitted in bilingual manuscripts prove that these, in two out of five cases, were associated with women's houses. Here, the evidence of grammatical tailoring is quite unambiguous, but not in the texts: in two manuscripts, the changes are confined to the inter-chapter headings, and in one to the headings listed before the main text. In the case of the former, I am convinced that a completely "feminine" list existed at one time; in each case, the manuscripts then passed to men's houses and alterations were made - but incompletely and inadequately. (4) What I thus envisage is nothing so clear-cut as separate masculine and feminine editions during the tenth century but, rather, a continual "ad hoc" and haphazard process of making-do and adapting. All the manuscripts that we have were used in men's houses; from the women themselves, we have only "indistinct echoes." The state of the Latin headings reveals that - in these men's houses, at least - no one cared too much about linguistic accuracy in manuscripts of the "Rule"; or perhaps they did not even notice [Reproduced by permission of Robert Schicler, the “Abstracts of Papers in Anglo-Saxon Studies” editor, and the editors of the “Old English Newsletter.”].
  • Author's Affiliation: Goldsmith's College, University of London
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1995.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973