Women’s Literary Culture Before The Conquest

This project offers the first sustained exploration of the literary culture of women in early medieval England.


This project explores both the conditions that enabled a rich and varied culture to thrive, and the reasons why that remarkable culture is almost invisible today.

Histories of English literature, including women’s literary histories, have tended to exclude or to marginalize the contributions of early medieval women. The project analyses new material to provide a better understanding of literary history and a new perspective on Anglo-Saxon literary production that places women at its very centre.

In the course of the project we will be visiting archives and libraries across Europe. The project blog will provide regular updates on this research.

The findings of the project are published in Women, Writing and Religion in England and Beyond, 650-1100 in Bloomsbury's Studies in Early Medieval History series, edited by Ian Wood.


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Latest blog posts


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Forthcoming Event: The Book of Margery Kempe and its antecedents

Tuesday 9 March 2021, 5.30pm Speaker(s): Professor Diane Watt, University of Surrey Medieval Literatures...




Select publications

1. Women, Writing and Religion in England and Beyond, 650-1100 (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019). ISBN 9781474270625

2. 'A Fragmentary Archive: Migratory Feelings in Early Anglo-Saxon Women’s Letters'. Taylor & Francis Journal of Homosexuality, 64 (3), pp. 415-429. doi: 10.1080/00918369.2016.1190217. Repository URL: http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/809465/

This article examines the emotions expressed in the letters written by Boniface's female correspondents, including nuns in England and missionaries to Germany.

3.  'Small Consolation: Goscelin of Saint-Bertin's Liber confortatorius and Pearl'. Chaucer Review: a journal of medieval studies and literary criticism, 51 (1), pp. 31-48.

Goscelin of Saint-Bertin's extended letter to Eve of Wilton is compared to the famous Middle English poem Pearl, throwing new light on both textsRepository URL: http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/808366/

4. 'The Earliest Women's Writing? Anglo-Saxon Literary Cultures and Communities'. Taylor & Francis Women's Writing, 20 (4), pp. 537-554. doi: 10.1080/09699082.2013.773761

This article looks in detail at the evidence of women's literary activities in the double monasteries of Ely and Whitby.

Repository URL: http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/744123/

5. 'Lost Books: Abbess Hildelith and the Literary Culture of Barking Abbey.'. Department of English, University of English Philological Quarterly, 91 (1), pp. 1-22.

This study examines women's literary culture and the early history of Barking Abbey.

Repository URL: http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/712344/

6. Watt D. (2012) 'Literature in Pieces: female sanctity and the relics of early women’s writing (500-1150)'. in Lees CA (ed.) The Cambridge History of Early Medieval English Literature Cambridge University Press Article number 14

Repository URL: http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/712369/

This chapter explores the surviving traces of women's writing in England before the mid twelfth century.

Contact us

  • Fax:  d.watt@surrey.ac.uk

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