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From Virile Woman to WomanChrist: Studies in Medieval Religion and Literature (The Middle Ages Series) Paperback – January 1, 1995
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"An erudite and wonderful book."—Caroline Walker Bynum
"Barbara Newman has written the most wide-ranging and throughly researched study to date of women's religious literature of the Middle Ages. Ranging across time . . . regional and linguistic borders . . . and genres, Newman provides enough examples to sink an armada of skeptics who would dismiss medieval female piety as somehow unrepresentative of high medieval culture. The range of examples is itself dazzling, and students of religious and feminist history will treasure this book. . . . But to prodigious learning and careful scholarship Newman adds . . . a writer's gift for being both clear and engaging. . . . From Virile Woman to WomanChrist is not only good scholarship but a good read."—Studies in the Age of Chaucer
"Newman skillfully searches out explicit and implied attitudes toward the female sex. She uncovers, in addition to expected differences, a key contrast in what is meant by formation for each sex. . . . This book makes splendid contributions to religious and literary studies on more than one front. . . . The sheer comprehensiveness of the texts, themes, and persons integrated into this study recommends it to a wide readership."—Speculum
"In this engaging, informative work, Barbara Newman intends to explore 'women's gender-specific dilemmas, choices, and ways of being Christian during the period from approximately 1100 through 1500.' . . . The important work of Newman certainly helps us to understand the background of the emergence of this still very 'intricate web' . . . of religious and intellectual teachings by women."—The Journal of Religion
"Barbara Newman has written an erudite and wonderful book. Drawing on and in many ways surpassing the flood of work on medieval religious women produced in the past fifteen years . . . , she gives us a set of learned, thoughtful, and interrelated essays, written in lucid and beautiful prose. . . . From Virile Woman to WomanChrist should be required reading in every university-level women's studies course—for its method, its substance, and its prose."—Caroline Walker Bynum, The Catholic Historical Review
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At times Barbara Newman fills a gap in the written tradition. For example, in the section "Expositio in Heliossam", she pictures the outlook on life that the young Heloise probably had on the basis of her talents, education and perception of her sexuality. This poses the implicit question how Heloise would have lived her life, had she been granted the possibility of a lasting intimate relationship with the man she loved. Barbara Newman makes the reader acutely aware of the distance between this possibility and the actual life of Heloise as it emerges from the letters she as abbess exchanged with her former lover and abbott Abelard. She also makes a convincing case that Hadewijch probably perceived this distance as well, and considered it a shortcoming in Abelard, however inevitable.
Barbara Newman makes the medieval texts come alive by showing how they hang together and express deep emotions, if only implicitly. Thus the appetit is wetted for reading these allegedly arid texts in full. My own interest for - and indeed attachment to - the book is in the insight it offers into the social, cultural and religious circumstances that made many women choose a life which implied sublimation of their womanhood into a male-inspired ideal that was approved by the church and deemed to lead to mystical union.
Newman pointed out through one famous book of the time and various religious thinkers and sects of the time that while some religious ideas had some benefit there were also those that didn't allow true equality. Newman's inclusions of the Golden Bowl, the Gnostics, The Sister Catherine Treatise, and the Guglielmites gives the book more details and proof of thorough research. I truly did like this book as it gave a new view of an important subject in an intricate time period.