‘Take it generally’
Julian of Norwich's Revelation of Love is the earliest work in English we are sure is by a woman. It is also one of the most ambitious Middle English texts we have, straining the resources of the vernacular in which it was written, as it strains the understanding of readers today. The work grew out of a visionary episode it dates to 1373, when Julian was thirty, and was completed over a period that may have reached into the fifteenth century. It exists in two versions which I call here by their manuscript titles: A Vision schewed [. . .] to a devoute woman (the Short Text) and A Revelacion of Love (the Long Text). Powerful though they are, neither was widely read in the Middle Ages. A Vision survives in one fifteenth-century manuscript in a northern dialect (London, BL Additional 37790), while the earliest copies of A Revelation are a pair of manuscripts written by English nuns in France between 1600 and 1650: one in Norfolk English, the other in an East Midlands dialect (London, BL Sloane 2499 and Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale fonds anglais 41).
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