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A fresh look at the position of women in the 8th and 9th centuries as defined by the literature of the early church.This study of literature by clerics who were writing to, for, or about Anglo-Saxon women in the 8th and early 9th centuries suggests that the position of women had already declined sharply before the Conquest a claim at variance with the traditional scholarly view. Stephanie Hollis argues that Pope Gregory's letter to Augustine and Theodore's Penitential implicitly convey the early church's view of women as subordinate to men, and maintains that much early church writing reflects conceptions of womanhood that had hardened into established commonplace by the later middle ages.
To support her argument the author examines the indigenous position of women prior to the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity, and considers reasons for the early church's concessions in respect of women. Emblematic of developments in the conversion period, the establishment and eventual suppression of abbess-ruled double monasteries forms a special focus of this study.
STEPHANIE HOLLIS is Senior Lecturer in Early English, University of Auckland, New Zealand.
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Careful, intelligent study...questions the widely received generalization that positive Anglo-Saxon attitudes to women succumbed abruptly in the wake of, and as a consequence of, the Norman conquest. She traces the seeds of change back to Augustine's arrival in England... a rich and dense book. YEAR'S WORK IN ENGLISH STUDIESEssential work for attitudes towards women in the church in the early middle ages and its key texts are interpreted in the light of a broad reading of many others. Its strengths lie in the realms of ideas. BARBARA YORKE, SOUTHERN HISTORYHer perceptive reading of the sources leads her to challenge widely-held assumptions (and) to present many persuasive conclusions. CHURCH HISTORY (US)