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Middle-Aged Women in the Middle Ages

Middle-Aged Women in the Middle Ages

edited by Sue Niebrzydowski
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 168
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt9qdjq8
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  • Book Info
    Middle-Aged Women in the Middle Ages
    Book Description:

    The phenomenon of medieval women's middle age is a stage in the lifecycle that has been frequently overlooked in preference for the examination of female youth and old age. The essays collected here, ranging from the Anglo-Saxon to the late medieval period, and drawing variously from literary studies, history, law, art and theology, address this lacuna. Taking a variety of critical approaches, the contributors consider medieval definitions, paradigms and experiences of female middle age, analysing how the middle-aged woman perceived herself subjectively, as well as how she was perceived by others. They seek to challenge the received wisdom that in the middle ages, at forty, women were deemed "old" and, from that point onwards, their thoughts should be focused on preparing for death. On the contrary, this collection demonstrates their energy, defiance and wit. Sue Niebrzydowski is Lecturer in English, Bangor University, Wales. Contributors: Jane Geddes, Clare A. Lees, Carol M. Meale, Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker, Sue Niebrzydowski, Raluca L Radulescu, Sara Elin Roberts, Corinne Saunders, Diane Watt.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-793-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Plates
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Introduction: ‘BECOMING BENE-STRAW’: THE MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN IN THE MIDDLE AGES
    (pp. 1-14)
    Sue Niebrzydowski

    InThe Merchant’s TaleJanuarie stipulates that his ideal bride will be no more than twenty years old, and that he especially ‘wol no woman of thritty yeer of age; / It is but bene-straw and greet forage’ (Merchant’s Tale, 1421–2).¹ Januarie wants an heir and his dismissal of a more mature woman as an unsuitable spouse is based upon a perceived connection between a woman’s age, fecundity and sexual attraction.The Middle English Dictionarydefinesbenestrawas ‘the refuse of broad bean plants (the stalks and empty pods)’ and ‘forage’ as dry fodder fit only for animal consumption....

  7. 1 THE AGE OF DISCRETION: WOMEN AT FORTY AND BEYOND
    (pp. 15-24)
    Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker

    A consideration of women’s middle age in the Middle Ages inspires a number of questions: most obviously, at what age was a woman considered middle-aged in this period? Where is she to be found in history and literature? Does the middle-aged woman operate in the public domain or (only) in the domestic sphere? Is she an isolated creature or socially active; an urban or a rural phenomenon? What kinds of social roles did she play: did she make a positive contribution to society or was she only, as retired people are said to be today, a source of concern, of...

  8. 2 SEEKING THE MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN IN MEDIEVAL WALES
    (pp. 25-36)
    Sara Elin Roberts

    Any discussion of middle-aged women in medieval Wales has the advantage of being able to draw on not only the historical sources, most notably the law codes, but also the rich literature of the period. However, the topic is fraught with hidden pitfalls, since it hides a number of questions and assumptions within it. When, for example, would a woman be considered middle-aged in medieval Wales? Did the category even exist? If it did, was the position of a middle-aged woman to be pitied or to be envied? How were such women treated? There are a number of examples of...

  9. 3 MIDDLE AGE IN ROMANCE? MAGIC, ENCHANTMENT AND FEMALE POWER
    (pp. 37-52)
    Corinne Saunders

    Time is a crucial romance subject: romances frequently span lengthy periods, and the recurrent motifs of exile and return, youth and adulthood, initiation and marriage depend on the passage of time. Romances repeatedly depict the righting by children of wrongs done to their parents, the rediscovery of the rightful heir, or the hero’s proof of himself over time. Romances, as Northrop Frye eloquently puts it, typically ‘exhibit a cyclical movement of descent into a night world and a return to the idyllic world’, a movement reflecting the great natural cycle of life, death and rebirth.¹ Birth and death are resonant...

  10. 4 AGE AND DESIRE IN THE OLD ENGLISH LIFE OF ST MARY OF EGYPT: A QUEERER TIME AND PLACE?
    (pp. 53-68)
    Diane Watt and Clare A. Lees

    These three quotations raise interconnected issues that this chapter will address in regard to the queer representations of old age and desire in the Old EnglishLife of St Mary of Egypt, to recognition, relationality, (un)intelligibility and what Butler calls ‘the limits of sexual autonomy’⁴ and to the troubled kinship of feminism with queer studies and its implications for collaborative scholarship. We begin, in our first quotation, with an old woman – or man – in the desert. This leads us to reflect – as our next two quotations suggest – on much larger questions about age, life cycle, time, temporal crossings, and periodisation...

  11. 5 THE ST ALBANS PSALTER: SEX, DESIRE AND THE MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN
    (pp. 69-82)
    Jane Geddes

    The St Albans Psalter is not an obvious choice for investigating issues about the sex interests of medieval women in their middle age. Rather, it is a radiantly spiritual book, lavishly illuminated to enhance the meaning of its texts.¹ However, a close interrogation of the illuminations shows that at least some of them are slanted in response to its primary reader and patron: the anchoress Christina of Markyate and her mentor Abbot Geoffrey of St Albans. The love letters of their contemporaries in Paris, Peter Abelard and Heloise, express in agonising detail the emotional, spiritual and physical conflicts suffered in...

  12. 6 SPEAKING VOLUMES: THE MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN AND THE BOOK IN MEDIEVAL ENGLAND
    (pp. 83-100)
    Carol M. Meale

    The question framed by the title of this essay is ostensibly a simple one: how did middle age affect women’s roles as commissioners, owners and readers of books? If they were married, and had survived the rigours and dangers of childbearing, did their interest in the sphere of cultural activities develop as they grew older, and were they able to achieve a degree of autonomy in pursuit of them? If they did, to what extent was this dependent on their marital and financial positions, or on their class status? Before it is possible even to consider these questions another is...

  13. 7 ‘LATE HIR SEYE WHAT SCHE WYL’: OLDER WOMEN’S SPEECH AND THE BOOK OF MARGERY KEMPE
    (pp. 101-114)
    Sue Niebrzydowski

    Margery Kempe’sBookhas survived in one manuscript copy, now London, British Library, MS Additional 61825, made around 1450, of a text dating from the 1430s. Although its author is named as ‘Mar. Kempe of Lynne’ (243/19), theBookwas not written by the illiterate Margery but recorded by amanuenses. TheBookrecords Margery’s life from the vantage point of her mature years: in her sixties Margery, born around 1373, recalls selected events from her twenties, and particularly the travel at home and overseas that she undertook predominantly in her middle age.¹ A chronology can be derived from the text²...

  14. 8 PREPARING FOR MATURE YEARS: THE CASE OF MARGARET OF ANJOU AND HER BOOKS
    (pp. 115-138)
    Raluca L. Radulescu

    On 2 August 1482, aged fifty-two, Margaret of Anjou, former queen of England and consort of the late Lancastrian king Henry VI, ‘seyne d’entendement, raison et pensée, combien que débille et inferme de corps’ (‘of sound understanding and reasoning but frail and infirm in body’), had her will drawn up shortly before her death.¹ Margaret had been living in France for a decade, in conditions unbecoming a former queen, and had already renounced all her parental inheritance in favour of the French king, Louis XI.² In her will she pleaded with Louis to pay all her debts, including the wages...

  15. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 139-150)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 151-153)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 154-154)