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Forgetful of Their Sex by Jane Tibbetts Schulenburg (thoughts)

July 11, 2011

I loved every page of Forgetful of Their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society, ca. 500-1100; it hit all my checkpoints for wonderful nonfiction! Let’s see…somewhat obscure topic, well-synthesised analysis that includes big picture trends and individual details, almost two hundred pages of ‘extras’ (aka notes, bibliography, index, etc.), and a charming, intelligent writing style. Oh, and it combines women’s studies (a perennial favourite) and medieval Europe (a more recent pet topic)! So here’s the deal: I’ll tell you what it’s about, and if the topic/ideas interest you at all, you should know that you’ll love it too. ;) Tibbetts Schulenburg has created a book that looks at many facets of life for early medieval European women through the prism of female saints. After studying over the lives of over two thousand of these holy women, she looks at not only specifics of the Christian experience during that time, but also at what ‘details’ can be extrapolated to non-holy women. And since most saints back then came from within the Church hierarchy or the European nobility, she includes a lot of information on the life of various nuns and abbesses and more than one strong queen. Everything from the standard diet of various convents to societal views of abortion to medieval friendships and more is covered here, and it’s all covered well. I never felt lost or confused; reading this was like listening to a series of lectures by your favourite professor, the one that could make any topic come alive through her own enthusiasm. I also loved her examinations of the sources themselves (almost all of the lives were written by monks rather than nuns, and of course their purpose was not to help historians a millennium later), and how she lays out her process for sorting it all. A rare treat for me, and one that was well worth the extra ‘effort’ of an interlibrary loan!

Notable Passages (yes, I’m using my camera to photograph rather than type out the quotes; click to enlarge and I hope this works!)

(Starting with the sentence ‘In part’ on far right):

Suggested Companion Reads

(Look for an upcoming book list featuring ‘women and medieval lit’!)

I regret to say that my hands/wrists/arms are still in pain, although less than last week. So I’ll do another week of bare-minimum typing and hope that assuages them. I can manage a post a day, and brief replies to e-mails or comments w direct questions, but extensive Twitter use/leaving long comments on others’ blogs/replying to every comment here is still out. Thanks for being so understanding! -Eva

22 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2011 7:57 am

    Non-fic seems very much to be en-vogue this summer in the book blogosphere.
    Plus, I love, love, love that you’ve used your camera to photograph the passages that you’ve quoted. Excellent idea.

    My friend Carly recently blogged about the 3 non-fic books she thinks everybody should read. You should check-out her list:


    • July 13, 2011 1:24 am

      I always read a bunch of nonfiction, but I’m happy if it’s becoming more popular in the blogosphere!

  2. July 11, 2011 9:15 am

    Oh, I’m so glad you loved this! I was intrigued when you first mentioned it and now I’m even more eager to track down a copy. Also, love the suggested companion reads.

  3. July 11, 2011 9:15 am

    This sounds really good! I am glad you enjoyed it so much!!

  4. July 11, 2011 10:07 am

    I love the mediaeval era (which is very strange because I usually prefer History periods that are more “light”). Sounds like an interesting book. I’m going to try it.

  5. July 11, 2011 12:30 pm

    I know a lot of nerds? But you are easily the nerdiest of them all, and I love you so much.

  6. July 11, 2011 2:31 pm

    I think this sounds great…and I love the way you’ve photographed the quotes! It worked perfectly. Brilliant fix :)

    • July 13, 2011 1:25 am

      Thanks! I’m relieved to hear it works. Next time, I’ll be able to wait until sun comes up, so hopefully it’ll be easier to find a good angle w/o shadows.

  7. July 11, 2011 3:05 pm

    That’s a very good idea you had to photograph the sections you wanted to highlight!

  8. July 11, 2011 4:29 pm

    Oh, man, that’s a GREAT idea! I love this title, too. Hope you start feeling a bit more “handy” soon!

  9. July 11, 2011 5:43 pm

    Another companion read (though perhaps hard to get hold of, esp outside the UK) is Virtuous Magic by Sara Maitland and Wendy Mulford – poetic and fictional explorations of women saints. A great fictional companion would be Michele Roberts’s novel Impossible Saints.

    I hope that the pain eases soon!

    • July 13, 2011 1:26 am

      Thanks for the suggestions Anna! Hoping my library has them. :)

  10. July 11, 2011 6:52 pm

    Ooh, you had me at the title, really! I love the idea of women being scholars and not caring that society tells them they shouldn’t be so :-)

    • July 13, 2011 1:26 am

      Well, this is about all kinds of saints, not just scholars, but isn’t that title great?! The gender dynamics are really crazy.

  11. July 13, 2011 8:40 am

    I love the title of this book. It sounds like a fascinating read and one I will have to look for at my library.

  12. July 13, 2011 10:50 am

    Sounds fascinating. I have a book of first hand accounts from women written 1500-1700 but I haven’t read it yet. I like the idea of this overview type book for the middle ages.

  13. July 14, 2011 8:45 am

    It’s good to see a book blogger actually reading through some medieval literature. Definitely going to check out Reading the Middle Ages if I attempt a Medieval Period Reading List. Are you planning on reading any of Islamic medieval classics?

    • July 14, 2011 12:48 pm

      Hi! I’ve read two of Middle Eastern works from this time period: The Travels of Ibn Battutah and Arabian Nights. It seems like they were primarily interested in poetry, though, which isn’t my favourite style. Do you have any non-poetry books to recommend (not too obscure, since I have to be able to at least inter-library loan them)?

  14. July 17, 2011 6:19 am

    Wow. Would love to read this one. I really enjoy learning about women from centuries past and I’ve never read anything about their role in medieval times … not since school anyway. Thanks for your thoughts on this, Eva. Can always rely on you to come up with something fascinating. :D

  15. July 19, 2011 8:37 pm

    If you’re interested in Medieval lit and history, SAPL has a couple of really good audiobooks that are lectures on the period in the Modern Scholar series. A bunch of them you can just download from the NetLibrary site, too, which is nice. I thought they were fascinating. Also, Aucassin and Nicolette was just recently recorded by Librivox, though I haven’t had a chance to see if the recording is any good, yet.

  16. July 19, 2011 8:42 pm

    Also, if you wanted to read something Islamic from the time period, the Kitab al-Miraj is supposedly one of the books that Dante’s Divina Commedia is based on, since it retells the prophets ascent into heaven from the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. And Phliosophus Autodidacticus is one of the first books that could be called a novel, though it is primarily intended to talk about philosophy, so I don’t know how good the frame narrative is.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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