Early Modern Nuns and the Preservation of Medieval Manuscripts: Anne Cary and Julian's Long Text

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Wolfe, Sarah Elizabeth
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Middle Tennessee State University
Catholic women religious who fled England with their communities during the dissolution of the monasteries (1536-41), many of whom were practicing scribes and writers, have not received the extensive scholarly attention for their cultural contributions that their Protestant counterparts have been afforded. Living in France, the Low Countries, and Portugal, the communities of exiled English nuns endured war, economic hardship, and isolation from their extended families at home in England. As the sixteenth century progressed to the seventeenth, among leading thinkers, poets, and philosophers, religious and cultural divisions mingled, multiplied, and emerged more sharply. In England, Jesuit poet Robert Southwell (?1561-95) influenced authors such as Catholic-born, increasingly anti-Jesuit John Donne (1572-1631) and Catholic convert Richard Crashaw (1612/1613-49). In France, Blaise Pascal (1623-62), influenced by Jansenism (centered at the convent of Port-Royal, which he entered in 1655), composed his Lettres provinciales (1656-7) attacking Jesuit casuistry, Fénelon, François de Salignac de la Mothe (1651-1715), archbishop of Cambrai (from where a group of English nuns moved to Paris) promulgated Quietism, a spiritual practice condemned by Rome. Civil Wars stemming from confessional divides in England and France affected the early modern populace by creating unrest and overall cultural instability. Despite suffering difficulties while living in foreign countries, the displaced communities of English nuns thrived culturally. Scholars such as Caroline Bowden, Laurence Lux-Sterritt, Jaime Goodrich, and Jenna Lay have examined chronicles, life-writing, death-notices, and correspondence to deepen understanding of the lives of exiled women religious and their works. Building on this research, my study further contextualizes seventeenth-century English Benedictine Anne Cary (1614-71) and the copy of Julian of Norwich’s Long Text preserved in Anne Cary’s convent Our Lady of Good Hope in Paris. Judging from the location of the manuscript copy and analyses of her handwriting (Anne wrote the constitutional documents for the Paris house), scholars have identified Anne Cary as the manuscript’s scribe. Anne’s copy of Julian’s Long Text was intended to conserve the manuscript for the devotional use of her community. Serenus de Cressy, chaplain to the community at Our Lady of Good Hope, supervised the 1670 English printed edition made from Anne’s copy of Julian’s Long Text. Through de Cressy’s 1670 printed edition, Julian’s work reached a wider audience in England and beyond, restoring continuity to Julian’s reception and securing her prominence in a literary history extending from before Anne’s work to today.
Early modern period, Julian of Norwich, Manuscripts, Nuns, English literature