Drastic changes in lay religiosity during the High Middle Ages spurred anxiety about women forsaking their secular roles as wives and mothers for religious ones as nuns and beguines. This anxiety and the subsequent need to model an ideal of feminine behavior for the laity is particularly expressed in the German versions of Latin and French narratives. Using thirteenth-century penitentials, monastic exempla, and sermons, Karina Marie Ash clarifies how secular wifehood was recast as a quasi-religious role and, in German epics and romances from the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, how female characters are adapted to promote the salvific nature of worldly love in ways that echo the pastoral reevaluation of women at that time. Then she argues that mid and late thirteenth-century German literature not only reflects this impulse to idealize women's roles in lay society but also to promote an alternative model of femininity that deploys ways of privileging secular roles for women over religious ones. These continuously evolving readaptations of female protagonists across cultures and across centuries reflect fictive solutions for real historical concerns about women that not only complement contemporary pastoral and legal reforms but are also unique to medieval German literature.
'… this book offers a wealth of material and, as reflected in the title, explores models of femininity presented in medieval German literature of (mostly) the thirteenth century. … those interested in gender issues in the Middle Ages will find much of value in Ash's book.' The Medieval Review