ABSTRACT

Although Catholic women in post–Reformation England do not seem, to have produced a body of autobiographical writings comparable to that of their Protestant counterparts, they did figure significantly as the subjects, consumers, and much more rarely the authors of a large body of biographical writing. These texts have attracted surprisingly little critical attention, in part because the access they offer to women’s voices, experiences, or self-representations is so obviously mediated. Furthermore, these long, detailed narratives, by turns weird and dull, can stymie readers. While most of these texts were not printed until much later, some were printed in the seventeenth century and some circulated in manuscript. Neither these lives nor these women seem homogeneous: some of the protagonists were stalwarts in the old religion, most converts; some were widows, some nuns, some mothers. Their lives are filled with remarkable incidents. Yet the narratives share striking similarities of emphasis, suggesting that certain conventions for the Catholic woman’s life had evolved by the seventeenth century.