Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Paul Szarmach

Second Advisor

Dr. Eve Salisbury

Third Advisor

Dr. Jaclyn Maxwell

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Timothy Graham


My dissertation researches the writings of the four Latin Doctors, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great, in order to challenge the scholarly stereotype of misogyny and anxiety about women in the writings of these influential figures and, more importantly, to build the cultural foundation upon which to base an interpretation of Ælfric’s portrayals of male and female saints in the Lives of Saints.

Accordingly, in the first chapter I focus on the writings of the Latin Doctors concerning the practice of virginity and on their explications of the Trinity and the Creation and Fall of humankind. I then trace the transmission of the ideas of the Latin Doctors into early Anglo-Saxon England through Aldhelm, Bede, and Alcuin in the second chapter by analyzing how each Anglo-Saxon scholar used and modified the writings o f the Latin Doctors that were available to him, maintaining the focus on treatises about virginity and on exegesis of the Trinity, Creation, and Fall. By observing how each early Anglo-Saxon scholar used the patristic sources to voice his own ideas, I determine which of the attitudes about women and theories about gender were most readily accepted by these churchmen and then passed on in their own writings. In the third chapter, attention turns to the late Anglo-Saxon writer and translator, Ælfric, in order to demonstrate which of the cultural ideas that he received were most likely to influence his own understanding of women and of gender. Then, by careful close reading and analysis of both female and male saints’ lives, comparing Ælfric’s Old English translations with the Latin sources, I seek to build a more culturally contextual understanding both of Ælfric’s own views about men and women, and of the attitudes he expected his audience to share.

The results of this study provide a more nuanced view of the attitudes of the Latin Doctors and the Anglo-Saxon scholars towards women. By taking language, culture, and history into account, the readings from Ælfric’s Lives o f Saints provide insight into how these Lives were understood by Ælfric and his audiences.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access