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Reading Medieval European Women Writers

Strong Literary Witnesses from the Past

Albrecht Classen

Despite a modern tendency to describe medieval women as suppressed and marginalized, a critical reading of relevant texts by female poets/writers demonstrates that women all over Europe in the premodern era enjoyed considerable freedom to express themselves and to contribute to the literary discourse of their time. This book brings together representative poets from Germany, England, France, Spain, Hungary, and Austria and thus develops an innovative pan-European perspective spanning from the tenth to the sixteenth century. Well-known writers are as much included as some rather little studied individuals, who all form part of a strong choir of female voices.
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8. The German-Hungarian Writer Helene Kottanner


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Chapter 8 The German-Hungarian Writer Helene Kottanner1

A Female Writer in the Center of Political Turmoil and Struggle

Feminist and gender-oriented research has taught us a number of highly valuable lessons not only with regard to women’s important contributions to literature and the arts throughout history, but also with regard to the nature of literature in the first place. For instance, the commonly accepted view of what constitutes literature—without doubt a highly amorphous term in the first place—has been seriously challenged in the last ten to fifteen years. After all, in our search for medieval women writers we have learned to accept many different text genres as meaningful media particularly for women, even if they do not always meet traditional expectations of a ‘literary’ text.2 In fact, the terms ‘literature’ or ‘fictionality’ might heuristically no longer be the most useful one to grasp the basic nature particularly of medieval and early modern textual culture, whether we think of epistolarity, annalistic literature, travelogues, medical treatises, or didactic texts.3 Instead of relying on purely aesthetic ← 297 | 298 → and idealistic criteria, as developed in the eighteenth century, and instead of drawing from a rather artificial opposition between ‘factual’ and ‘fictional’ for the definition at least of pre-modern literature, today it seems much more appropriate to relate authors with textual communities, performative practices, and commemorative functions. This would make particularly good sense if we think of convent literature at large (prayer books, liturgical texts, etc...

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