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Through the veiled window: feminine autonomy, masculine authority, and discursive tension in anchoritic writings
By Aspen Amanda Hougen
Master’s Thesis, Montana State University, 2011
Abstract: An examination of English Medieval texts produced by and for women who chose to live as anchoresses, pursuing a hermitic lifestyle of religious contemplation and prayer. Contemporary framings and traditional scholarly discussions of anchoritic women have tended to view them as powerless and silenced due to their life of permanent enclosure within their hermit’s cell. This thesis argues for a more nuanced view of the personal freedom these women enjoyed and of the awareness of that freedom possessed by anchoresses and by the male religious authorities who supervised them. The thesis invokes close readings, discourse analysis, and historical context to reach the conclusion that anchoresses possessed a remarkable level of personal freedom and social power, and that this was known, if not acknowledged, by the writers of anchoritic texts.