Gender, Reading, and Truth in the Twelfth Century
The Woman in the Mirror
CollectionSwiss National Science Foundation (SNF)
The twelfth century witnessed the birth of modern Western European literary tradition: major narrative works appeared in both French and in German, founding a literary culture independent of the Latin traditions of the church and Roman Antiquity. What gave rise to the sudden interest in and legitimization of literature in these “vulgar tongues?” Until now, the answer has centered on the somewhat nebulous role of new female readers. Powell argues that this explanation is neither adequately documented nor sufficient to its object; and more importantly, a different appraisal of the same evidence offers a window onto something far more momentous: not “women readers” but instead a reading act conceived of as female lies behind the polysemic identification of women as the audience of new media in the twelfth century. This woman is at the center of a re-conception of Christian knowing, a veritable revolution in the mediation of knowledge and truth. By following this figure through detailed readings of key early works, Powell unveils a surprise, a new poetics of the body meant to embrace the capacities of new audiences and viewers of medieval literature and visual art.
KeywordsLiteracy; gender; medieval; romance; religious instruction; vernacular literature; fiction
PublisherArc Humanities Press
Publication date and place2020
Literature & literary studies