The Discourse of Enclosure
Representing Women in Old English Literature
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Examines representations of women and femininity in Old English poetry and prose.
2001 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title
Exploring Old English texts ranging from Beowulf to Ælfric's Lives of Saints, this book examines ways that women's monastic, material, and devotional practices in Anglo-Saxon England shaped literary representations of women and femininity. Horner argues that these representations derive from a "discourse" of female monastic enclosure, based on the increasingly strict rules of cloistered confinement that regulated the female religious body in the early Middle Ages. She shows that the female subjects of much Old English literature are enclosed by many layers—literal and figurative, textual, material, discursive, spatial—all of which image and reinforce the powerful institutions imposed by the Church on the female body. Though it has long been recognized that medieval religious women were enclosed, and that virginity was highly valued, this book is the first to consider the interrelationships of these two positions—that is, how the material practices of female monasticism inform the textual operations of Old English literature.
Shari Horner is Assistant Professor of English at Shippensburg University.
"This is an important and inventive book. Horner uses a supple argument about the discourse of female enclosure—enclosure in a monastery, enclosure in the body, and enclosure in a text—to link a feminist reading of four Old English works not usually read together: the heroic epic Beowulf, the female-voiced Old English elegies, a verse saint's life, and female portions of the Lives of Saints by Ælfric. The result is an elegant and informative feminist reading of all these works and a developed methodology that sheds light on women's experiences as readers of Old English texts and as subjects within those texts." — Jonathan Wilcox, editor of Humour in Anglo-Saxon Literature