Women of the Middle Ages

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Selected books, mostly fiction, about women in the Middle Ages. April 2008.

Women of the Middle Ages

Scarlet Music: Hildegard of Bingen: a Novel by Joan Ohanneson
The book is beautifully written and is not afraid to present the 12th century abbess mystic as all too human, dealing with the concerns and fears that must have accompanied her extraordinary visionary gifts. She held women in high regard and challenged many of the assumptions of that time about the inferiority of women in the eyes of the Church.

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross Set against the turbulent events of the Dark Ages, a fictional account of the controversial figure of historical record profiles a spirited woman who, because of the limits imposed on her as a female, disguised herself as a man, and rose to rule Christianity as the only woman ever to become pope.

Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Retells the legend of Arthur from the viewpoint of the women in the story: Viviane, the Lady of the Lake and high priestess of Avalon, Arthur's mother Igraine, his Christian wife Guinevere, and the sorceress Morgaine. The personalities of the main characters are very different from, and more complex than, the way in which they have been traditionally portrayed.

The Thrall’s Tale by Judith Lindbergh
A tale set in Viking Greenland at the turn of the ninth century follows the intertwined lives of three women, all of whom narrate the story, straddling the pagan past and Christian future. Based on characters and folk stories from the Icelandic Sagas.

Strong as Death by Sharan Newman
During a pilgrimage to the monastery of Santiago de Compostela, the indefatigable Catherine LeVendeur and her Saxon husband, Edgar, encounter mad monks, unusual and less-than-penitent crusaders, and an enigmatic woman whose past binds them together in a bizarre, potentially deadly game of chance. Richly detailed, highly suspenseful and thoroughly researched.

The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman by Nancy Marie Brown
Five hundred years before Columbus, a Viking woman named Gudrid sailed past the edge of the known world. She landed in the New World and lived there for three years, giving birth to a baby before sailing home. Joining scientists with cutting-edge technology and the latest archaeological techniques, author Brown reconstructs a life that spanned--and expanded--the bounds of the then-known world.

Isolde, Queen of the Western Isle by Rosalind Miles
A fantastical riff on the classic account of passionate star-crossed lovers. The feminist Miles presents a fully realized woman in Isolde: sexual, spiritual, tormented and impassioned. Tristan is nearly as well crafted, first appearing to Isolde as a nameless, wounded pilgrim whom she must nurse back to health, then revealing himself as a glorious young prince.

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier
Six brothers have been turned into swans by their wicked stepmother. Only their sister, Sorcha, can save these sons of an Irish chieftain by weaving magical shirts that will turn them back into human beings. Marillier is a fine folklorist and a gifted narrator.

Kristin Lavransdatter (series) by Sigrid Undset
Set in 14th century Norway, Kristin displays an unusually passionate and spirited independence. Undset won the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature for this series. The first book is The Wreath.

Confessions of a Pagan Nun by Kate Horsley
These are the spiritual memoirs of a fictional fifth century Irish nun living during the transition from paganism to Celtic Christianity.

Down the Common: A Year in the Life of a Medieval Woman by Ann Baer
The emphasis hereis not so much on plot, or even character development, as it is on familiarizing the reader with the day-to-day life of a women living in medieval society.

Category: Reading Lists, Historical Fiction

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