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Medieval Single WomenThe Politics of Social Classification in Late Medieval England$
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Cordelia Beattie

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199283415

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199283415.001.0001

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Classification in Cultural Context

Classification in Cultural Context

(p.13) 1 Classification in Cultural Context
Medieval Single Women

Cordelia Beattie (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the associations that accrue to certain categories through their repeated use in particular contexts by influential cultural discourses. It argues that use of the categories ‘virgin’ and ‘widow’ in a widely disseminated religious discourse about chastity means that the categories often carry with them associations of chastity, which could influence their use in other discourses, even when chastity is not an overt concern. Femme sole has specific meaning as a legal construct in late medieval England and these associations might similarly imprint themselves on the term and its Latin and Middle English variants, even when the legal construct itself is not being intentionally evoked. The chapter also reviews the arguments about how marriage and thus non-marriage was affected by demographic and economic changes after the Black Death, and whether this had some bearing on the use of the category ‘single woman’ in contemporary texts.

Keywords:   virgin, widow, chastity, femme sole, single woman, marriage, Black Death

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