Barbara Newman

Barbara Newman teaches at Northwestern University near Chicago. Her most recent books are The Permeable Self: Five Medieval Relationships and a translation of Richard Methley’s collected works.

A hand can be slanted or upright, rounded or pointed, spacious or cramped, with distinctive letter forms, ligatures and flourishes. Some pocket-sized Parisian Bibles are written in such tiny script that a magnifying glass is required to read them, while scholastic writings are heavily abbreviated to save parchment. Thomas Aquinas’s shorthand was so illegible only his secretary could decipher it. 

Seven Centuries Too Late: Popes in Hell

Barbara Newman, 15 July 2021

In​ one of the most poignant moments of Dante’s Commedia, the exiled poet anticipates his triumphant return to Florence:

Should it ever come to pass that this sacred poem,to which both Heaven and Earth have set their hand …should overcome the cruelty that locks me outof the fair sheepfold where I slept as a lamb …then …shall I return a poet and, at the fontwhere I...

A Thousand Slayn: Ars Moriendi

Barbara Newman, 5 November 2020

This book​ begins with a paradox: we speak incessantly of death, yet can’t say anything about it because it has no being. A subsidiary paradox has long puzzled medievalists: ‘It is hard to tell, when you read only the poetry of the late 14th century, that the Black Death had ever arrived,’ D. Vance Smith writes. There is nothing in all English literature to parallel...

Every age creates its own Chaucer. For Eustache Deschamps, a contemporary, he was the ‘grant translateur’. For Hoccleve, a disciple, he was ‘my deere maistir’ and ‘the firste fyndere [inventive poet] of our fair langage’. The 15th century revered him for his eloquence, while the 20th century gave us many Chaucers: genial naif, apostle of courtly love, austere Augustinian moralist, sycophantic courtier, ironist and, not least, duelling misogynist and feminist versions. In Marion Turner’s capacious biography – the first since Derek Pearsall’s in 1992 and the first ever by a woman – Chaucer is Bakhtinian and plural, a man of many voices.

Carved into the Flesh: Medieval Bodies

Barbara Newman, 11 October 2018

For​ medievalists, the bodily turn has had a profound impact not just on the histories of medicine and sexuality, as one would expect, but also on those of art, religion and ideas. Thirty-five years or so after the body emerged as a newly problematic category, an entity with a tangled history or a rebellious subaltern that had finally found its voice, ‘medieval bodies’ have...

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