The codices and manuscripts of the Middle Ages are littered with the acts of kings and the edicts of bishops, full of tales of knightly romance and monkish devotions. Read between the lines, though, and you’ll find the women who made the medieval world run: bookkeepers and brewers, weavers and wine merchants, serfs and sex workers. They never got credit for it, and even their first names are often obscured by those of their husbands and fathers, but their lives were much richer and more varied than we have been led to expect. Eleanor Janega, who teaches medieval and early modern history at the London School of Economics, devotes her new book, The Once and Future Sex, to these ordinary and extraordinary women. Her analysis of the ways in which their lives were circumscribed shows how radically gender norms have changed—though not always improved—since the so-called dark ages.
Go beyond the episode:
- Eleanor Janega’s The Once and Future Sex: Going Medieval on Women’s Roles in Society
- On her blog, Going Medieval, read Janega’s take “On beer, or, why chicks rock” or peruse the index of medieval subjects
- Janega’s podcast about the Middle Ages, “We’re Not So Different” considers “how we’ve always been idiots”
- Smarty Pants has gone medieval itself: in this interview with Mary Wellesley about the ordinary lives in manuscripts, or this conversation with Jack Hartnell about physicality and the body
- We also love The London Review of Books’s podcast miniseries, “Close Readings: Encounters with Medieval Women,” hosted by Wellesley and Irina Dumitrescu
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