Study Guide

Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In the last third of the fourteenth century, when Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower were writing poetry in English in London and Piers Plowman and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight were being produced in the west of England, the “first English woman of letters” was composing a book in prose in Norwich, East Anglia. Julian of Norwich is one of the best known of the fourteenth century English mystics. The small number of extant manuscripts of the Book of Showings (her account of her mystical visions) suggests that she was probably not well known outside East Anglia. Her work has enjoyed a resurgence of scholarly and popular interest since the six-hundredth anniversary of the “showings.”

Julian (also as Juliana) of Norwich’s Book of Showings relates the details of visions she had and her attempts to interpret their meaning. Modern critics widely recognized her book as a spiritual masterpiece. Aside from the meager information found in church records, a few wills, and Margery Kempe’s autobiography, most of what is known of Julian is from her own accounts. As a part of contemplative prayer, she had prayed for sickness, for a vision of the passion of Christ, and for three wounds. She did become ill, suffering paralysis and blindness just before the onset of the sixteen showings. The visions, she reports, occurred on May 13, 1373, when she was thirty and one-half years old.

The Book of Showings (entitled Revelations of Divine Love in some modernizations) is written in the East Midland dialect of Middle English. A number of devotional writers in the Middle Ages sought mystical experience of God. Julian achieved the prized vision that many others could only point to. She did not intend to teach any kind of methodology for the gradual drawing near of humans to God, but rather only to record her own experience for others. The visions began at a time in her illness when Julian could not speak, had lost feeling in the...

(The entire section is 807 words.)

Julian of Norwich Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Baker, Denise Nowakowski. Julian of Norwich’s Showings: From Vision to Book. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994. A thorough discussion that includes a bibliography and index.

Bauerschmidt, Frederick Christian. Julian of Norwich and the Mystical Body Politic of Christ. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999. Looks at Julian in relationship to Christianity, Church politics, the history of doctrines, and the Middle Ages. Includes bibliography and index.

Bradley, Ritamary. “Julian of Norwich: Writer and Mystic.” In An Introduction to the Medieval Mystics of Europe: Fourteen Original Essays, edited by Paul Szarmach. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984. A good, well-rounded introduction to Julian and her work.

Dishaw, Carolyn, and David Wallace, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Women’s Writing. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. A compilation of essays by scholars that provides valuable context for the literary works of medieval women.

McEntire, Sandra J., ed. Julian of Norwich: A Book of Essays. New York: Garland, 1998. Volume 21 of the Garland Reference Library of the Humanities: Garland Medieval Casebooks. The work covers a variety to topics relating to Julian.

Nolan, Edward Peter. Cry Out and Write: A Feminine Poetics of Revelation. New York: Continuum, 1994. Includes a good discussion of Julian’s literary style and her place in feminine Christian literary history. Bibliography and index.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Visionary Women: Three Medieval Mystics. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002. Addresses the lives of Hildegard of Bingen, Mechthild of Magdeburg, as well as Julian of Norwich.