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A Fine and Private Place

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 September 2012

Jane Bliss
Affiliation:
‘Naming and Namelessness in Medieval English and French Romance’ in 2004
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Summary

LESBIAN practice is recognised, proscribed and then euphemised almost to rinvisibility in the Ancrene Wisse. Almost, but not quite: the writer is caught in the dilemma of a confessor who, fearing to put ideas into his penitent's head, yet needs to drag forth and deal with every conceivable sin. After all, it is no use telling her she must not have sex with men if she therefore thinks it is all right to have sex with women – her fellow anchoresses – or even by herself, and still keep her virginity. And so he drops several hints into his text, which are sufficient for a reader as attentive as she is.

These hints have not been examined at all closely by Ancrene Wisse's modern readers – perhaps it is thought that their implications do not add anything to our appreciation of the text. A certain amount of work has been done on female homosexuality in the Middle Ages. But research suggests that theologians, from St Paul onwards, openly recognise it as sin though nobody else does; consequently there are very few documented cases, as if through ‘an almost active willingness to disbelieve’. As far as I can discover, nobody studies Ancrene Wisse in any detail against this background, because the hints I examine do not, alone, amount to very much. But it is rather remarkable that they are here at all, given the silence in so many texts.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2007

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