"In this book there is nothing of ours": women's spiritual biographies in seventeenth-century France.




Kuncewicz, Lisa

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As the Catholic revival that followed the Wars of Religion in France brought about the proliferation of new monasteries and religious orders, spiritual biographies of the founders and leaders of these houses were composed in unprecedented numbers. These texts, generally written by men about women, described cultural ideals about feminine piety more than the lived experience of nuns. This project seeks to examine the ways that spiritual biographies nevertheless represented literary practices in convents and actual collaboration between religious men and women. The vast array of biographical documents that were produced within convents became the source materials for the male authors of biographies, which allowed the members of convents to exert influence on the subject matter of the published work. The products of these collaborative efforts then served the interests of women as well as men, offering examples of religious communities’ virtues and valuable works to potential recruits and donors in addition to providing models of the ascetic piety and self-examination endorsed by women of the Catholic Reformation. In an era when authorship was a communal, rather than individual, endeavour, the participation of men did not necessarily erase all traces of women’s voices, but rather granted them the legitimacy and spiritual authority to be published before a wider audience. Spiritual biographies are therefore an example of how cloistered women could transcend the barriers of enclosure to influence a broader secular and religious public.



Religious History, French History, Women's History, Seventeenth-Century France