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epistolary literature, female literacy


German medieval literary scholarship has always been dominated by male-oriented views, since research in this field has been traditionally carried out by men. Because of this, the role of women in medieval literature has been of only marginal interest to most scholars. Recent publications, however, have changed this situation, since an increasing number of women scholars have not only acquired a profile in medieval literary research but have also focused particularly on the life and culture of women in the Middle Ages. Thus the image of the medieval woman is slowly emerging from the dark, although most of our knowledge still relies predominantly on the information about those women who were highly active in public either as rulers or as religiously devout persons. Yet increasingly our awareness of women as housewives, traders, travelers, nuns, Beguines, or even as authors, has been gradually extended due to the growing fascination with social, historical, religious, and economic aspects of medieval life. Many studies have begun to focus on the role of woman as a procreator, as a sex partner, as a medically wise person, or, perceived from the opposite angle, as a witch. Much more difficult, it seems, are efforts to determine women as poets, although recently our traditional view of an all-male world of poetry has been supplanted by a more diversified image, shattering the axiom that few women were literate in the Middle Ages.