In the first chapter, "The Sins of Women", Duby concentrates on the sins deemed to be particular to women (amongst others these include sorcery, disobedience, and licentiousness) and focuses especially on the male fear of female sexuality and magic. The second chapter is based on twelfth-century commentaries on the chapters in Genesis dealing with Eve's role in the fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. Interpreting these writings, and the earlier writings upon which they were based, Duby shows how they reflect the reasoning behind the view held of women as unstable, curious, and frivolous creatures. The third section is based on letters written by clerics to women of noble status and nuns. Here, while the charges of instability and frivolousness are once again levelled at women, their praise is also sung for their marital and motherly values. The final section concentrates solely on the most famous text of this period by Andreas Capellanus (De Amore), and sets it within the context of the supposed twelfth-century discovery of love and the courtly love tradition.
As the third and last part of Duby's three-volume study of the lives of French noblewomen of the twelfth century, this book confirms the author as one of the greatest historians of the Middle Ages. It will be of great interest to students and researchers of medieval history and women's history, as well as anyone interested in the historical relationship between women and the Church.
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'Elegantly written and elegantly translated, Duby's book distils what can be found about the lives of six elite women from the meagre records of the twelfth century. It leads him to revise his earlier opinions and see the recognition of the spirituality of women in that century as leading Europe to rate the values of love more highly. And all this is done with his customary scholarship and sensitivity.' Professor Jack Goody, St John's College, Cambridge
'Georges Duby was a grand master among medieval social historians, and this is true vintage: subtle, perceptive, penetrating, sympatheic, and - helped by Jean Birrell's translation - highly readable. Women's history is of special interest today, and the book will provide for many a refreshing entry to a fascinating world.' Professor Christopher Brooke, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge
'An illuminating insight into the experience of womanhood in twelfth-century Europe. There is much in Women of the Twelfth Century to enjoy ... well-informed and thought-provoking ... this book has a lot to offer.' History Today
'Fascinating insight ... thought-provoking and inspirational.' Journal of Gender Studies
'This study is Duby's last work, written just before he died in 1997, and it is his most personal and intimate testimony as a historian; he is in the foreground of his own narrative throughout. On that account it is a direct and touching book. As translated (with outstanding skill) by Jean Birrell, it is also very readable.' Times Literary Supplement