Women and Aristocratic Culture in the Carolingian World Synopsis
Despite the wealth of scholarship in recent decades on medieval women, we still know much less about the experiences of women in the early Middle Ages than we do about those in later centuries. In Women and Aristocratic Culture in the Carolingian World, Valerie L. Garver offers a fresh appraisal of the cultural and social history of eighth- and ninth-century women. Examining changes in women's lives and in the ways others perceived women during the early Middle Ages, she shows that lay and religious women, despite their legal and social constrictions, played integral roles in Carolingian society. Garver's innovative book employs an especially wide range of sources, both textual and material, which she uses to construct a more complex and nuanced impression of aristocratic women than we've seen before. She looks at the importance of female beauty and adornment; the family and the construction of identities and collective memory; education and moral exemplarity; wealth, hospitality and domestic management; textile work, and the lifecycle of elite Carolingian women. Her interdisciplinary approach makes deft use of canons of church councils, chronicles, charters, polyptychs, capitularies, letters, poetry, exegesis, liturgy, inventories, hagiography, memorial books, artworks, archaeological remains, and textiles. Ultimately, Women and Aristocratic Culture in the Carolingian World underlines the centrality of the Carolingian era to the reshaping of antique ideas and the development of lasting social norms.
Women and Aristocratic Culture in the Carolingian World Press Reviews
Valerie L. Garver has exhaustively combed a huge number of primary sources and frequently presents her findings in novel or unexpected conjunctions, to excellent effect, especially on such important questions as women's contribution to the domestic economy or the details of their prayer texts. -Julia Smith, Edwards Professor of Medieval History, University of Glasgow, author of Europe after Rome This fascinating book should appeal to medievalists in all fields, particularly those interested in gender history and art history. Valerie L. Garver successfully argues that women played fundamental roles in defining and transmitting aristocratic culture in the period from c. 700 to 925. She looks at the importance of female beauty, appearance, and adornment; the family and the construction of identities and collective memory; education and moral exemplarity; wealth, hospitality, and domestic management; and textile work. While Garver is especially interested in the female aristocracy, she also knows and pays attention to the sources regarding male aristocrats, drawing useful comparative material from them. This is a remarkable work. It provides sensitive analysis and a fresh new look at the rich material of the Carolingian world. -Jane Schulenburg, University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of Forgetful of Their Sex Women and Aristocratic Culture makes a major contribution to our understanding of early medieval and aristocratic experience. Garver is consistently able to take even unsurprising findings and well-known points and parlay them into strong planks of support for her overall thesis. -Felica Lifshitz, Medieval Prosopography (April 2014) Garver's mastery of a variety of early medieval sources allows her to draw novel conclusions about the roles of aristocratic women as active participants in and shapers of Carolingian elite culture. . . . Women and Aristocratic Culture reveals a great deal. -Courtney L. Luckhardt, H-France Review (2014) Garver provides an excellent synthesis of current scholarship about aristocratic Carolingian women. Although she acknowledges the paucity of sources directly addressing women's roles, she does a commendable job of examining the existing literature and delineating the place of women in Carolingian society. This creates a useful contribution to both women's history and social history in the Carolingian period. -Margaret J. McCarthy, Medium Aevum (Mar 2011) English-speaking scholars have contributed considerably to research on Carolingian women since Suzanne Fonay Wemple's pioneering Women in Frankish Society: Marriage and the Cloister 500-900, but they have produced few monographs. Valerie Garver's new book is a welcome exception, aiming to show women as 'active participants in shaping and perpetuating the behaviors, beliefs, and practices' of Carolingian culture. -Early Medieval Europe Severe source constraints confront all historians of ninth-century women. The Carolingian world is relatively rich in sources but not in material overtly concerned with women. Yet Garver has read widely. For Garver, the Carolingian reforming revaluation of the aristocratic female household role was a turning point in Western views of women. That is one of many challenges to historians of earlier and later periods left by this brave book, which opens new and interesting perspectives. -American Historical Review