Women's Literary Culture Before the Conquest

On 28 October 2017 the Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages seminar series welcomed Professor Diane Watt (Surrey), an event which CLEMT was delighted to co-host. Prof. Watt spoke about her Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship-funded project ‘Women’s Literary Culture Before the Conquest’, which explores the roles played by women in the production and circulation of early medieval English literature.

By recovering the diverse contributions of women as writers, readers, patrons, and sources for early medieval literary works, Prof. Watt’s research offers to correct the persistent marginalization of women in critical histories of the period, and reconstructs a longer, richer and more collaborative tradition for later medieval women’s writing. The invisibility of much female literary production in the early medieval period calls for a quasi-archaeological methodology, attending to lost and anonymous texts and ‘overwritten’ traces of women’s contributions to male-authored texts – and in the process reconfiguring presumptive models of authorship as a function of a single (male) consciousness. In her talk to the CeSMA seminar Prof. Watt presented a fascinating case-study of this method, tracing the role played by Ælfflæd, Abbess of Whitby (654-714) in the production of saints’ lives authored by Bede and others, and drawing richly suggestive parallels between textual transmission (the submerged quotation of Ælfflæd’s account of an episode in the life of Saint Cuthbert) and the circulation of material objects (a girdle blessed by the saint and endowed with healing properties).

For more details of Prof Watt’s work, see the project website.