Sometime around 1230, a young woman left her family and traveled
to the German city of Magdeburg to devote herself to worship and
religious contemplation. Rather than living in a community of holy
women, she chose isolation, claiming that this life would bring her
closer to God. Even in her lifetime, Mechthild of Magdeburg gained
some renown for her extraordinary book of mystical revelations,
The Flowing Light of the Godhead, the first such work in
the German vernacular. Yet her writings dropped into obscurity
after her death, many assume because of her gender.
In Mechthild of Magdeburg and Her Book, Sara S. Poor seeks
to explain this fate by considering Mechthild's own view of female
authorship, the significance of her choice to write in the
vernacular, and the continued, if submerged, presence of her
writings in a variety of contexts from the thirteenth through the
nineteenth century. Rather than explaining Mechthild's absence from
literary canons, Poor's close examination of medieval and early
modern religious literature and of contemporary scholarly writing
reveals her subject's shifting importance in a number of
differently defined traditions, high and low, Latin and vernacular,
male- and female-centered.
While gender is often a significant factor in this history, Poor
demonstrates that it is rarely the only one. Her book thus corrects
late twentieth-century arguments about women writers and canon
reform that often rest on inadequate notions of exclusion.
Mechthild of Magdeburg and Her Book offers new insights
into medieval vernacular mysticism, late medieval women's roles in
the production of culture, and the construction of modern literary
Subjects: Language & Literature
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