For a woman to succeed in an academic sphere, it is never enough for her to be clever-- she must be brilliant. “The Second Nun’s Tale” in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales explores the metaphorical brilliance (in sexual purity, intelligence, and faith) of St. Cecilia. The tale is also a mechanism for the Second Nun to advocate for her own vocation of “holy work,” for the sake of the learned religious women who preserved such writings. The themes of her tale are quite different from those espoused by the Wife of Bath, but the Wife also argues to have her voice heard using similar narratorial techniques. The worldviews of these characters are strikingly similar to two real women who gave us some of the earliest known English literature: mystics Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe. This essay explores the Second Nun and the Wife of Bath, using in-depth analyses of their descriptions and tales to connect to the real world. In medieval England, educated women could take charge of their narratives, but often only by navigating cultural bounds of sexual purity and spiritual knowledge could they prove their true brilliance. I draw parallels between Julian of Norwich and the Second Nun/Cecilia, who exemplify education and spiritual authority via a pure religious life, and between Margery Kempe and the Wife of Bath, who are boldly grounded as women of the world. Though their education and writings are different, they are proof as bright as day that medieval women had something important to say.



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