Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 4557
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  • Title: Relationships Between Women in Old English Texts: Cultural Definitions of Femininity [Thirtieth International Congress on Medieval Studies, the Medieval Institute, Western Michigan University, May 4-7, 1995. Thirtieth Symposium on the Sources of Anglo- Saxon Culture, co- sponsered by the Institute and CEMERS, Binghamton University. Session 244].
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 28, 3 (Spring 1995):
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  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Ælfric, Abbot of Eynsham Judith, Old English Poem Literature- Verse Woman Woman Relationships
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 10-11
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  • Abstract: This paper examines some of the ways in which Anglo-Saxons represented relationships between women, that is, the ways vernacular writers depicted women assisting (or hindering) one another at times of political, familial, sexual, and spiritual crises. It is perhaps the rarity of such relationships in Old English writings which has led scholars to ignore this rich subject, but examining female-female relationships offers an avenue to better under- standing patriarchal constraints on women's lives in Anglo-Saxon England. The paper begins with the corporeal: Lucy's attempts to heal her sick mother and Agatha's sexual initiation among a family of female prostitutes in Œlfric's "Lives of the Saints." It then turns to more abstract relationships between women: Œlfric's popular homilies which hold out heaven as the eternal company of one's sisters, and his hagiographical narratives which depict women modeling themselves in the images of dead saints, self-fashionings which often take place through mystical conversations. The paper concludes with the heroine and her maid in the Old English "Judith," a relationship marked by its expansion from the poem's source and notable for the ways in which epithets and namings virtually extinguish class differences between the two women. Critical accounts of Anglo-Saxon women have focused primarily on women who work alone - the isolated freoouwebbes, bereft widows, lone warrior-queens, and desolate elegists, who dominate Old English poetry. Sustained attention to the female-female interactions in England's early writings provides a useful means of rethinking these solitary figures. In its methodology, this paper draws on feminist theorists such as Chodorow, Faderman, Rich, and Hooks, who have demonstrated the importance of female-female relationships in cultural definitions of femininity [Reproduced by permission of Robert Schicler, the “Abstracts of Papers in Anglo-Saxon Studies” editor, and the editors of the “Old English Newsletter.”].
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  • Year of Publication: 1995.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973
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