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The Earliest Women's Writing? Anglo-Saxon Literary Cultures and Communities

Watt, D (2013) The Earliest Women's Writing? Anglo-Saxon Literary Cultures and Communities Women's Writing, 20 (4). pp. 537-554.

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Who were the first women writers in the English literary tradition? This question continues to preoccupy feminist scholars in the twenty-first century, but very few would look back to the centuries before the Norman invasions in order to find the answer. Focusing on the religious houses of Ely and Whitby in the seventh and early eighth centuries this article reviews some of the surviving evidence of the first monastic women’s writing. Looking for traces of early texts by women, it re-examines the lives of the Abbesses Æthelthryth of Ely and Hild of Whitby found in the fourth book of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, alongside the account of Hild found in the Old English Martyrology, and, more speculatively, it reconsiders the case for women’s involvement in the production of the anonymous first Life of Gregory the Great. This article argues that texts by women were ‘overwritten’ by the earliest male monastic writers, a process reinforced by later scholarship. By focusing on texts associated with religious houses ruled by women, and by seeing them as the productions not of individuals but of communities, it is possible to get a fuller and more balanced understanding of women’s writing in this earliest period of English literary history.

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > School of English and Languages > English
Authors :
Date : 1 November 2013
Identification Number : 10.1080/09699082.2013.773761
Related URLs :
Additional Information : This is an electronic version of an article published as Watt D (2013). The Earlierst Women's Writing? Anglo-Saxon Literary Cultures and Communities. Women's Writing 05 Mar 2013 (ahead of print). Available online at:
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 19 Mar 2013 14:06
Last Modified : 06 Sep 2014 01:08

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