Perceptions of Femininity in Early Irish Society

November 2016
231 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Studies in Celtic History
Library eBook
Boydell Press
BISAC LIT011000, LIT003000, SOC010000

Perceptions of Femininity in Early Irish Society

Helen Oxenham

An examination of how the feminine was viewed in early medieval Ireland, through a careful study of a range of texts.
Was femininity in early Irish society perceived as weak and sinful, innately inferior to masculinity? Was it seen as powerful and dangerous, a threat to the peace and tranquility of male society? Or was there a more nuanced view, an understanding that femininity, or femininities, could be presented in a variety of ways according to the pragmatic concerns of the writer?
This book examines the sources surviving from fifth- to ninth-century Ireland, aiming to offer a fresh view of authorial perceptions of the period. It seeks to highlight the complexities of those perceptions, the significance of authorial aims and purposes in the construction of femininity, and the potential disjunction between societal "reality" and the images presented to us in the sources. This careful analysis of a broad range of early Irish sources demonstrates how fluid constructions of gender could be, and presents a new interpretation of the position of femininity in the thought world of early Irish authors.

Helen Oxenham worked at the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic in Cambridge as supervisor and researcher on the Mapping Miracles project. She now works for The English Heritage Trust.

Table of Contents

Perceptions of Femininity in Early Irish Society: an Introduction
The Feminine Norm
The Powerful Feminine
The Saintly Feminine
The Sinful Feminine


This book is an invaluable resource and will take its place among both the classics of Early Irish Studies and the international field of gender and women's history. HISTORY

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