Wednesday, January 22, 2020

"Visionary Women and Female Friendship"
Jennifer Brown
February 7, 2020
7:30 pm
Graduate Center
Room 4406

The medieval women whose lives have come to us in most detail are the exceptional ones, those championed by powerful men, and those who were or remain controversial. In some cases — such as with visionary or mystical women — they are all three of these things at once. And all too often the stories that survive — their hagiographies, most likely — are told by men and primarily are concerned about the men with whom these women had often deep, intimate friendships. Many scholars have written about the close relationships between male writers and their female subjects. But surely for many of these women, particularly those who lived or ended their lives in cloisters surrounded by other women, their friendships with their sisters and female friends were the deepest although often not as clearly recorded. This talk seeks to answer the question that Karma Lochrie raises in her essay “Between women:” “Where [in medieval texts] were the women who formed communities with each other, engaged in deep abiding friendship together, and experienced sexual bonds with other women?” I have chosen to look at visionary women, whose specific burden of care and support is perhaps more urgent than other medieval religious women, due to the physical and emotional toll of their raptures. In choosing a few examples from the twelfth century to the sixteenth, in various European contexts (modern day Low Countries, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and England), I hope to demonstrate how necessary the female friend was to the medieval visionary women and how, by looking closely at their surviving textual evidence, we can see those friendships in stark relief.