Constructions of Widowhood and Virginity in the Middle Ages

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To be a virgin or a widow never promised a stable, uniform status to a woman during the Middle Ages. Rather, these positions were areas of contestation, constructions that did and still do create and interrogate notions of gender roles, areas of power, areas of disability. For example, chastity is an apparent given for both positions, but the chastity involved may have a number of possible cultural meanings or uses. The articles in Constructions of Widowhood and Virginity in the Middle Ages address many facets of these two female positions in medieval literature: gender constructions; the body and what it means to make it visible, whether in admiration, torture, or martyrdom; issues of physicality and abjection; creations of literary voice for women who write or create situations for them to be written about. A top-notch group of female scholars examines the meanings behind widowhood and virginity both individually and in relation to each other. The focus on both positions in the same volume makes Constructions of Widowhood and Virginity in the Middle Ages an unprecedented work.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The questions raised here, and so the proposed answers are of great provocative quality and invite us to pursue the issues further.


Scholars of English and Medieval literature explore the portrayal of the two conditions, showing how they were arenas of contest over notions of gender roles and domains of power and disability. They consider such issues as the meaning and practice of chastity, the body and what it means to make it visible under various circumstances, physicality and abjection, and literary production. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312211363
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 12/28/1999
  • Series: New Middle Ages Series
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Cindy L. Carlson is Assistant Professor of English at Seton Hall University.
Angela Jane Weisl is Assistant Professor of English at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

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Table of Contents

Appealing to Ecclesiastical Chivalry: The Widowed Queen in the Encomium Emmae Reginae—Stephanie Hollis
• A Widow’s Chaste Vow: Mapping the Influence of Marie’s La Vie de Sainte Audreé on Isabella, Countess of Suffolk—Virginia Blanton-Whetsell
• Closed Doors: An Epithalamium for Queen Edith, Widow and Virgin—Monika Otter
• Performing Virginity: Sex and Violence in the Katherine Group—Sarah Salih
• The Paradox of Virginity with the Anchoritic Tradition: The Masculine Gaze and the Feminine Body in the Wohunge Group—Susannah Mary Chewning
• Unrepresentable Rape and the Represented Church in Medieval Saints’ Lives—Kathleen Coyne Kelly
• Widowed Virgins, Viragos, and Authority in the Man of Law’s Tale— Christopher C. Baswell
• The Violent Violation of Virginia: Family Violence in the Physician’s Tale—Sandra Pierson Prior
• Between the Living and the Dead: Widows as Heroines of Medieval Romance—Rebecca Hayward
• The Disorder of Violence/The Violence of Order: Abjection in the Prioress’ Tale-Kathleen M. Hobbs
• A Fountain Sealed, a Garden Enclosed: Literary Constructions of the Virgin Mary in Medieval French Story, Drama, and Lyric—Judith M. Davis
• Virginity at Court: The Trials of the Virgin in the N-Town Cycle—Cindy L. Carlson
• Helpful Widows, Virgins in Distress: Women’s Friendship in French Romances of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries—Anna Roberts
• The Widow as Virgin: Desexualized Narrative in the Livre de la Cité des Dames—Angela Jane Weisl
• Transgressive Tears: The Pedagogy of Grief and the Image of the Grieving Widow in Medieval French Culture—Leslie Abend Callahan

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