In Women of the Twelfth Century: Eve and the Church, Georges Duby concerns himself with the relationship between women and the church, examining the ways in which women were viewed from a Christian point of view. By the twelfth century, the Church had begun to take the role and expectations of women seriously, and the clerical writings discussed in this work address the particular issues that emerged from this development.
In the first chapter, "The Sins of Women", Duby concentrates on the sins deemed to be particular to women (amongst others these include sorcery, disobedience, and licentiousness) and focuses especially on the male fear of female sexuality and magic. The second chapter is based on twelfth-century commentaries on the chapters in Genesis dealing with Eve's role in the fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. Interpreting these writings, and the earlier writings upon which they were based, Duby shows how they reflect the reasoning behind the view held of women as unstable, curious, and frivolous creatures. The third section is based on letters written by clerics to women of noble status and nuns. Here, while the charges of instability and frivolousness are once again levelled at women, their praise is also sung for their marital and motherly values. The final section concentrates solely on the most famous text of this period by Andreas Capellanus (De Amore), and sets it within the context of the supposed twelfth-century discovery of love and the courtly love tradition.
As the third and last part of Duby's three-volume study of the lives of French noblewomen of the twelfth century, this book confirms the author as one of the greatest historians of the Middle Ages. It will be of great interest to students and researchers of medieval history and women's history, as well as anyone interested in the historical relationship between women and the Church.