Reading Reading Women: Double-Mirroring the Dame in Der Ritter vom Turn

  • Anne Simon
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


This view on the desirability of women’s reading is found in Der Ritter vom Turn (1493), the German version of the Livre du chevalier de la Tour Landry. It is prompted by the story of Deborah, whose wisdom, culled from Holy Scripture, enabled her, according to the Knight, to convert her hardhearted, evil husband from his wicked ways into a just and peace-loving man. While the biblical Deborah was a judge, prophetess, and military leader who led a coalition of Israelite tribes to a victory on the plain of Esdraelon over the superior Canaanite forces commanded by Sisera (Judges 4–5), the Knight turns her into a model of feminine piety and domestic virtue whose book learning furnishes her with weapons for the taming not of her people’s enemy but of her tyrannical spouse.


German Version Female Voice Open Book French Original Roman History 
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  1. 2.
    Ruth Harvey, “Prolegomena to an edition of ‘Der Ritter vom Turn,’” in Probleme mittelalterlicher Überlieferung und Textkritik: Oxforder Colloquium 1966, ed. Peter F. Ganz and Werner Schröder (Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 1968), p. 163 [162–82], and Hans Joachim Kreutzer, “Marquart vom Stein,” in Die deutsche Literatur des Mittelalters: Verfasserlexikon, ed. Wolfgang Stammler et al., 2nd edn., 10 vols. (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1987), vol. 6, col. 133 [129–35] suggest the daughters may have been a useful fiction. If so, their fictionality would open a different interpretation of the undeniably salacious aspects of the text since these would function more clearly as the means to sexual titillation. Indeed, a double readership may have been intended from the start: the male reader, who would have enjoyed the male authority stamped on and the risqué entertainment offered in the text; and the female reader, for whom the stories were meant to function as warnings or models, but for whom some of the stories may also have been sexually titillating. As Holt N. Parker states: “The woman is a fiction, a male-created mask, which authorizes and privileges a male-created text.” In other words, the male reader may have been intended as the prime recipient, the daughters and female readers a vehicle for arousing material. See Holt N. Parker, “Love’s Body Anatomized: The Ancient Erotic Handbooks and the Rhetoric of Sexuality,” in Pornography and Representation in Greece and Rome, ed. Amy Richlin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 92 [90–107]. My thanks to Heike Bartel of the Department of German, University of Nottingham, for this reference and her helpful comments on this essay.Google Scholar
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    “Lappidoth” means “torches” and only occurs as a proper name in this context. For a commentary on Judges see James D. Martin, The Book of Judges (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1975)Google Scholar
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  22. 17.
    This is supported by Lesley Smith’s argument that the book held by Mary “represents the Christ that Gabriel is sent to announce. Lest we think that Christ did not exist before the birth of Jesus, this already-present book reminds us of the doctrine of the eternity of the Word. The Word made flesh (so graphically evident in the parchment pages of a manuscript book) in Mary’s book is symbolically present at the very moment of his conception.” See Smith, “Scriba, Femina: Medieval Depictions of Women Writing,” in Women and the Book, ed. Lesley Smith and Jane H.M. Taylor (London: British Library, 1997), p. 22 [21–44].Google Scholar
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    Robert Scribner, “Ways of Seeing in the Age of Dürer,” in Dürer and His Culture, ed. Dagmar Eichberger and Charles Zika (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 104–105 [93–117].Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Emma Campbell and Robert Mills 2004

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  • Anne Simon

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