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Writing Habits: Historicism, Philosophy, and English Benedictine Convents, 1600–1800
by Jaime Goodrich
University of Alabama Press, 2021
eISBN: 978-0-8173-9372-4 | Cloth: 978-0-8173-2103-1
Library of Congress Classification GB645.A4P4
Dewey Decimal Classification 551.38097986

The first in-depth examination of the texts produced in English Benedictine convents between 1600 and 1800
After Catholicism became illegal in England during the sixteenth century, Englishwomen established more than twenty convents on the Continent that attracted thousands of nuns and served as vital centers of Catholic piety until the French Revolution. Today more than 1,000 manuscripts and books produced by, and for, the Benedictine convents are extant in European archives. Writing Habits: Historicism, Philosophy, and English Benedictine Convents, 1600–1800 provides the first substantive analysis of these works in order to examine how members of one religious order used textual production to address a major dilemma experienced by every English convent on the Continent: How could English nuns cultivate a cloistered identity when the Protestant Reformation had swept away nearly all vestiges of English monasticism?
Drawing on an innovative blend of methodologies, Jaime Goodrich contends that the Benedictines instilled a collective sense of spirituality through writings that created multiple overlapping communities, ranging from the earthly society of the convent to the transhistorical network of the Catholic Church. Because God resides at the heart of these communities, Goodrich draws on the works of Martin Buber, a twentieth-century Jewish philosopher who theorized that human community forms a circle, with each member acting as a radius leading toward the common center of God. Buber’s thought, especially his conception of the I-You framework for personal and spiritual relationships, illuminates a fourfold set of affiliations central to Benedictine textual production: between the nuns themselves, between the individual nun and God, between the convent and God, and between the convent and the Catholic public sphere. By evoking these relationships, the major genres of convent writing—administrative texts, spiritual works, history and life writing, and controversial tracts—functioned as tools for creating community and approaching God.

Through this Buberian reading of the cloister, Writing Habits recovers the works of Benedictine nuns and establishes their broader relevance to literary history and critical theory.

See other books on: Alaska | Buber, Martin | Historicism | Religious life | Women authors, English
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