Wednesday 15 April, 2009 at 4:00pm in the Weber, David Wallace will deliver a talk entitled "Women Living with Women: Nuns in English History and Literary Imagining, 934-1674."
Nuns were few in medieval England but exerted powerful, long-lived effects on literary imagining. Even when they were gone, or moved abroad, their social functions were still lived out by generations of English women. Enclosure proved a defining issue: how did religious women negotiate the clerical principle of /aut virum aut murum/, implying that they should either marry or be permanently immured? And how were their struggles for self-directed, educated living perpetuated in the lives of those women who first sought university education?
This talk begins and ends with poet Andrew Marvell, contemplating the ruins of a former Yorkshire nunnery during the English civil war. It considers the activity of women, up to Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, in the southwest of England: the heartland both of Arthurian romance and of English female communities. Syon Abbey, the most significant religious foundation in England between the Norman Conquest and the Reformation,was an √©lite community of female readers and worshippers; the nuns of Syon returned to England in 1557 and then returned again in the nineteenth century. The possibilities of women living with women, in circumstances at once liberatory and confined, continue to haunt the imagination-- and to leave traces on the English landscape-- down to our present moment.
On Friday, 17 April, there will also be a "Rap Canterbury Tales" performance by Baba Brinkman, at 3pm in the Weber.