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Women in Old Norse Society

4.2 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801485206
ISBN-10: 0801485207
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Editorial Reviews


"Jochens's study is a model of interdisciplinary techniques and research; she carefully describes her sources―largely laws and sagas of various types―and their limitations, and then draws from them information, such as the etymology of key words ('wife,' 'husband'), possible only for a linguistic scholar of her caliber."―Choice

"Although a number of scholars have begun in recent years to approach Old Norse literature from a feminist perspective, Jenny Jochens has been the only historian in the United States to use gender analysis to study the society represented in that literature. . . . Jochens brings to bear on the Icelandic material a very broad range of knowledge: not only the Old Norse sources in all their complexity but also the body of scholarship in women's history and feminist theory. . . . This book can be read with profit by all medievalists and is essential reading for anyone interested in Old Norse society."―Speculum

"A thoroughly rewarding book. . . . The section on economics and production of wadmal and shaggy overcoats deserves close attention as the best treatment in English of an important topic hitherto neglected."―English Historical Review

"Jenny Jochens has been one of the most prolific scholars working on the perennially interesting theme of the role played by women and scholars in Old Icelandic history and literature. Jochens presents a wealth of fascinating detail, never before collected to this extent . . . offering a full picture of the lives of medieval Icelandic women."―Saga-Book

"Well documented and well presented, Women in Old Norse Society covers much material that has not been dealt with in English. It serves the dual purpose of establishing a focus on women and of providing an enormous amount of good cultural history."―Theodore M. Andersson, author of The Growth of the Medieval Icelandic Sagas (1180–1280)

From the Back Cover

Jenny Jochens captures in fascinating detail the lives of women in pagan and early Christian Iceland and Norway - their work, sexual behavior, marriage customs, reproductive practices, familial relations, leisure activities, religious practices, and legal constraints and protections. Much of this information also applies to everyday life in the entire Germanic world. Conveying the experiences not only of aristocrats but also of ordinary farmers, the author draws from her extensive knowledge of the oldest and fullest record of the Germanic tribes. Women in Old Norse Society places particular emphasis on changing sexual mores and the impact of the imposition of Christianity by the clergy and the Norwegian kings. It also demonstrates the vital role women played in economic production: homespun was used for every conceivable domestic purpose; the lengths of cloth became the standard of measurement for local commercial exchange and were used to obtain commodities abroad. Jochens's masterly command of the Old Norse narratives and legal texts enables her to provide a rich social history that includes the fullest analysis to date of pagan and Christian marriage and the first comprehensive study of infanticide in the North.

Product Details

  • Perfect Paperback: 282 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press (March 26, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801485207
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801485206
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,102,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Perfect Paperback
This is Jochen's companion volume to "Old Norse Images of Women," which focuses on images of women in Norse literature. These literary images *may* be more Christian patriarchal fantasy than real. "Women in Old Norse Society" looks at the reality of women in the Viking Age, using the Icelandic Sagas and the recorded Laws as the main sources of information. Jochens argues that the sagas are both historical and literary sources.
Paganism lasted much longer in Scandinavia than the rest of Europe, which meant women there enjoyed a more equal relationship with men for a considerably longer time. Jochens explores the Pagan-Christian conflict very fairly, looking at both the advantages and disadvantages the shift to Christianity brought for women. For example, in pagan times women had little say in whom they married, and Christianity brought the advantage of female consent. Jochens looks in great detail at important female issues such as marriage, reproduction, leisure and work. Especially fascinating is the "economics of homespun," or how women's economic contribution of woven cloth eventually became the main medium of exchange.
One of my favourite aspects of Jochen's writing is her frequent use of Old Norse words, clearly explained, adding a fascinating linquistic layer. She references her work meticulously, making it a very scholarly read, yet it is highly readable for anyone interested in women's history.
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Format: Perfect Paperback
It is amazing how much information she managed to pack into this book, without overwhelming the reader AND with keeping it interesting. She included Old Norse (Icelandic?) language in the text without taking away from the content or causing confusion. (I don't speak either.) It actually added to the book. She covered all facets of Norse society and also noted the differences between how the Icelandic and Norse cultures developed over the years. It is definately a book that I recommend for anyone interested in historic Norse society, especially the female culture.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was very excited to see a book about this and was taken in by the good reviews. I expected some small flaws, because of the age of the research (this research was done in the early 90s.) However, this book is deeply flawed on many levels. I need to explain that I am trained historian. I've got a degree and everything. I'm no arm-chair hero here.

1. This book pulls from very, very limited sources even when more sources are and were available at the time the research was done. It completely ignores some prime sources, almost never mentioning them or explaining their exclusion from the research. Very little is pulled from archaeological evidence, even when available. Almost nothing is pulled from the myths -- which are a wealth of information about pre-Christian Nordic society. In fact, they seem to be mentioned just once when a myth that is almost surely irrevocable ruined by Christian re-writes is cited as a fairly weak argument to believe that women may have drunk with men. (And completely ignores another myth, which clearly states that this happens.) Myths that cover weaving, spinning, cooking and even sexual relations are never addressed in the appropriate chapters.

2. The research purports to discuss the Old Norse which is primarily defined as the pre-Chrisian society. This book actually starts at the point in which the old pagan ways had been loosened for several generations. This is like studying the 20th century to see how people in the 18th lived.

3. The research centers on Iceland and the germanic tribes despite supposedly being about old Norse society. There are many problems here.
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