German Historical Institute London:
Bibliography: Research on British History
in the Federal Republic of Germany


ANNETTE KERN-STÄHLER: A Room of One's Own. Reale und mentale Innenräume weiblicher Selbstbestimmung im spätmittelalterlichen England, Tradition - Reform - Innovation, Studien zur Modernität des Mittelalters, 3 (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2002), XV + 358 pp. € 50.10

ISBN 3-631-38238-3

Applying Anthony Giddens' Theory of Structuration, which considers both the structural constraints to, and the transformational capacity of, human agency, this interdisciplinary study deals with space available to, created, used and transformed by, late medieval English laywomen. Contrary to the commonly held assumption that the medieval way of life did not allow for 'privacy' (a term discussed in this study), it is argued that laywomen could in fact retreat into rooms which were not accessible to the public, into 'real' private rooms (such as chambers, closets, galleries, chapels and oratories) and/or into 'imaginary', 'mental' private rooms. They were able to re-define the space ascribed to them by changing its architectural features or by a purely imaginative act: guided by devotional tracts, meditations and exempla, they created, and retreated into, a mental space filled with lively scenes from the holy narrative, in which they were asked to participate. Thus enabled to remove themselves mentally to another point in space and time women were, to some degree, given the chance to achieve for themselves an inner freedom and thereby to create a new way of life, a new identity even, especially (instructed by tracts and examples) when reconciling the life of a laywoman with the spiritual life and thus leading a religious life within the world.

Annette Kern-Stähler

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