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date: 18 September 2019

Abstract and Keywords

In his poem Upon Appleton House, Andrew Marvell implies that the Appleton nunnery in Yorkshire, along with all its works, vanish “in one instant.” The suggestion that the English nuns disappear the moment they are chased from their buildings is iconic both of English Renaissance imaginings and of modern scholarship. The mysterious absence of nuns was compounded with their excessive presence, a paradox that in many ways compares with medieval Catholic thinking and feeling about nuns. This article examines the representations of nuns in English Renaissance literature and their habitual failure to portray the kinds of lives, and conditions of enclosure, actually known to nuns in England. It also considers how the long history of convent literacies in England, leading from Anglo-Saxon and Latin to Anglo-Norman and English, results in gradual separation of women from the literacy of the clerical elite. The article analyzes Caesarius of Heisterbach’s Dialogus Miracolorum, a compilation of miniature ascetic romances written for Cistercian novice monks.

Keywords: Upon Appleton House, Andrew Marvell, nunnery, nuns, Renaissance, Renaissance literature, enclosure, England, Caesarius of Heisterbach, Dialogus Miracolorum

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