Intimate Reading

Textual Encounters in Medieval Women’s Visions and Vitae
Jessica Barr
Explores how medieval women mystics sought to create an experience of the divine through the medium of the text


Intimate Reading: Textual Encounters in Medieval Women’s Visions and Vitae explores the ways that women mystics sought to make their books into vehicles for the reader’s spiritual transformation. Jessica Barr argues that the cognitive work of reading these texts was meant to stimulate intensely personal responses, and that the very materiality of the book can produce an intimate encounter with God. She thus explores the differences between mystics’ biographies and their self-presentation, analyzing as well the complex rhetorical moves that medieval women writers employ to render their accounts more effective.
This new volume is structured around five case studies. Chapters consider the biographies of 13th-century holy women from Liège, the writings of Margery Kempe, Gertrude of Helfta, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, and Julian of Norwich. At the heart of Intimate Reading is the question of how reading works—what it means to enter imaginatively and intellectually into the words of another. The volume showcases the complexity of medieval understandings of the work of reading, deepening our perception of the written word’s capacity to signify something that lies even beyond rational comprehension.


Jessica Barr is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Praise / Awards

  • "Analyzing several vitae and visions of late medieval holy women, Barr argues that the texts were crafted to allow for intimate reading, through which readers achieve a personal mystical union with the divine." - CHOICE

Product Details

  • 260 pages.
  • 1 B&W illlustration.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2020
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12635-4

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  • Mysticism
    Medieval women writers
    Saint’s lives
    Gertrude of Helfta
    Mechthild of Magdeburg
    Marguerite Porete
    Margery Kempe
    Julian of Norwich
    Ida of Nivelles
    Goswin of Bossut
    Thomas of Cantimpré
    Lutgard of Aywières
    Christina Mirabilis
    Aleydis of Schaerbeek
    Beatrice of Nazareth
    Book history
    History of reading
    Affect theory
    Intimate reading
    God in the book