October 16


  • Project 1 due before midnight tonight to Blackboard
  • Next week: commonplace book checkpoint #2
  • Catching up on Chaucer: final thoughts on the Wife of Bath? Is she a proto-feminist? Are there ways we can challenge that?
  • A word on word choice, and genre…


  • Group Presentation!

Let’s put some binaries on the board…

Julian of Norwich, A Book of Showings (1342-1416)

  • Lived in St. Julian’s Church in Norwich, from which we get this potential pseudonym
  • An anchoress, possibly a Benedictine nun
  • Became deathly ill around the age of 30
    • When last rites were performed on her, she began to have a series of mystic visions
    • Her visions (16 in total) led to her recovery
    • Julian produced the Short Text of The Revelations of Divine Love narrating the visions immediately afterwards
    • Her Long Text was expanded to analyze the visions two decades later


  1. Does Julian qualify the religious experience as solely spiritual? What’s the significance of this?
  2. Did you notice places where she uses first person singular (“I”) and others where she talks in the plural (we/our)? Why does she do this?
  3. Why would she want to focus on motherhood, rather than the more traditional image of Christ as a groom?
  4. Is there something fluid about using Christ’s gender identity as “he” but identify him as “mother”? What do we make of this?
  5. What is the purpose of describing these ideas as visions, rather than simply doctrines, or teachings?

Margery Kempe (1373-1438)

Printed Book: http://english.selu.edu/humanitiesonline/kempe/showcase/webapp_wynkyn.php

Manucript: http://english.selu.edu/humanitiesonline/kempe/showcase/webapp.php

  • Daughter of a former mayor (rising middle-class)
  • Had fourteen children before taking on a vow of celibacy
  • Claimed to be affected by visions: passion of Christ and Virgin Mary
  • Never considered a heretic, but not highly popular, either
  • The first English autobiography?
  1. Why does Kempe narrate her story in the third person?
  2. What kind of relationship does Kempe have with Christ? What did you make of their intimacy?
  3. What kinds of unexpected ideas does Kempe put forward about devotion and faith?
  4. In what ways do Kempe’s visions contradict what other Christians expect of her?
  5. Why is sex perceived as unclean and undesirable in this narrative?

As “modern” as such an account of the life of Margery Kempe sounds, Kempe grounds her work in the conventions of medieval female sacred biography.4 Throughout the annals of sanctity, holy men and women were presented as breaking with or as challenging the institutions of family and society. The issue of sexuality was a particularly important one for female saints, for by their wishes to lead celibate lives, women signified their espousal of a new and less socially defined existence.5 Unbound by the physical and patriarchal strictures of marriage, they could cultivate a spiritual relationship to God whose terms were frequently described by their hagiographers as freer — and, in fact, far more amatory — than any available to them as actual wives. That this freedom was carefully circumscribed and superintended by the Church is integral to the story of women’s religious movements in the Middle Ages, since it is more often through the writings of the confessors or spiritual guides of such women that we know of their lives. Those lives are radical, in the sense that they are designed to challenge the tepidity of contemporary devotion, yet also conventional, since the very devotion that turns the holy person into a fit example contains the effect of that challenge when it is recorded by a male member of the institutional church (Stanley)

Anne Askew (1521-1546)

  • The Protestant Reformation: a tricky thing
  • Protestant persecution
  • Thomas More
  1. What did you make of Askew’s narrative style? How does she represent her inquisitors?
  2. What seem to be some of the crucial doctrinal differences between Catholics and Protestants, according to Askew?
  3. After reading Julian, Kempe and Askew, what did you make of the role of women in religious debates? Does Askew triumph in her narrative? Do you find yourself on her side?


Next Week

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