State of Virginity: Gender, Religion, and Politics in an Early Modern Catholic State

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Her carefully selected case studies show how church and state collaborated to produce a shared discourse and consistent policies proscribing extramarital sex, and excluding those without property from marriage. If you are a student who has a disability that prevents you from using this book in printed form, BiblioVault may be able to supply you with an electronic file for alternative access. Please have the disability coordinator at your school fill out this form. M8S83 Dewey Decimal Classification Discursive and Institutional Foundations, 1. Which Public Matters Most?

For the past several decades, historians of early modern Germany have fruitfully investigated the specter of female sexuality haunting the minds of both Protestant and Catholic reformers. The ways in which marriage functioned to contain these anxieties is now broadly understood, if less well so for the German Catholic than Protestant context. Here Strasser's book makes an important contribution. So too can we now discern the ways in which patriarchal households comprised the political bedrock of state power.

Ulrike Strasser | Women's Studies in Religion Program

Thanks to these studies, the gendered dimensions of the nascent public sphere are now more broadly understood. Less well-understood are Catholic states' political uses of virginity and the lives of those women who remained unmarried, choosing or forced to renounce their hetero sexuality. Here Strasser's work is path-breaking.

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Early modern virginity is, she argues, the flipside to marital chastity, and its political mobilization was equally important in the building of the Bavarian absolutist state as was marriage. As she succinctly states in the introductory chapter, "holy and female virginity The book is divided into two main parts: the first, comprised of two chapters, focuses on the years to ; the second, consisting of three chapters, is devoted to the Thirty Years' War to and its aftermath.

Written fluidly throughout, Strasser's book should find many readers. Students of early modern confessionalization and state-building comprise an immediate and obvious audience. These readers may be particularly interested in Strasser's demonstration that Catholicism was hardly antithetical to the establishment of the modern state as has often been assumed in the wake of Weber.

Strasser, Ulrike 1964-

Those teaching courses on early modern sex and gender may likewise wish to assign all or some of this book. While the book as a whole offers a compelling narrative arc, each chapter stands firmly on its own. This reader particularly enjoyed the book's final two chapters. It is the first early modern topic to have been included there, a welcome sign that Germanists across disciplines recognize the need to account more fully for the early modern period in explorations of historical and literary modernity. The book's first chapter explores post-Tridentine marital doctrine and the Bavarian state's ability to bring marriage firmly under secular control.

Peculiar to Munich, Strasser argues, were the economic guarantees civic officials required to validate marriage. To obtain a marriage license, couples had to jump high economic hurdles and were required, for example, to prove joint ownership of property in excess of Gulden and provide "between four and six local guarantors who vouched for their reliability in economic matters" p.

Marriage, like citizenship, thus became the exclusive purview of the wealthy. Combing records of cases in which women sued former lovers before Munich's highest judge Stadtoberrichter between and p.


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As she states, "What did change over time was the legal meaning assigned to sexual relations and the range of judicially sanctioned stories about love relationships between men and women" p. A first group of virgins thus slowly came into view: "the discourse of profligacy led to a labeling of lower-class women as a source of moral pollution and therefore grave social danger.

Hence, they were relegated to a state of virginity" p. Written clearly throughout, the book gains considerable momentum in its final two chapters, both devoted to houses of women religious. Here, Strasser is at pains to elaborate "the enduring emancipatory potential of the Catholic ideal of virginity, which could enable women to utilize the space of the convent and their virginal bodies for their own purposes in spite of and, at times, in fact because of Tridentine enclosure" p.

While Strasser remains attentive to women's abilities to appropriate and even resist the new discourse of femininity throughout the book, the nuns' short-term tactics to subvert long-term state and ecclesiastic strategy are explored more thoroughly than are the tactics of poorer women.

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The nuns' various tactics may simply be better preserved in the historical record. Strasser makes ingenuous use of materials unearthed in convent archives now housed primarily in the Bavarian State Archives Bayerisches Hauptstaatsarchiv.

These and other sources are enumerated in the volume's comprehensive bibliography. But perhaps the economic resources and educational background at the disposal of this second group of virgins made them more able to resist state demands and to maintain some latitude in their behavior--even after Trent-inspired enclosure. Sister Clara Hortulana of the Poor Clares, for example, "turned into a virtual prayer broker, assigning spiritual works to nuns in her own and other convents, with her confessor serving as a go-between" p.

The sisters prepared the bodies for public display, sewing radiant garments assembled through sale or donation of their own finest possessions, and "these sacred remains became an extension of self, if not virtually prosthetic bodies, for women whose own bodies had been barred from public view" p.

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