Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Prelims Reading: Day One, Part Two

David Herlihy aims to revise Joan Kelly-Gadol's claim that women did not have a Renaissance primarily by discussing the importance of hagiography to the period. While I agree with his assertions that literary renderings of female saints' lives complicate some of Kelly-Gadol's claims about women's social positions where Christianity is concerned, I can't help but think that he is benefiting from the exponential growth of feminist historicist scholarship in the 1980s and 90s to which she did not have access. Not that that makes him any less correct. It just seems like he's holding her to a slightly unfair standard, as well as painting her findings with a broad brush with statements like "[Kelly Gadol suggests] that this supposedly progressive period did nothing for women" (Herlihy 33). While she does say women are deprived of social and political opportunities that they had previously enjoyed, she makes a point to differentiate between decades and regions. She also points out how women of different classes fared better or worse than one another. To reduce these and other variances to "the period did nothing for women" is to do Kelly-Gadol's clearly painstaking research a disservice.

Herlihy's findings match up to Kelly-Gadol's initially, as he notes that "holy queens and abbesses fad[ed] from the ranks of the blessed in the Middle Ages (43), citing the Gregorian Reform that removed women from "centers of religious authority." But that's all too simple, Herlihy says. It's also necessary to examine the position of such women in families and estates, particularly within systems of kinjship and the passing on of property and wealth (43).

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