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Language and power in an English convent in exile, c.1621-1631

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JournalThe Historical Journal
DateAccepted/In press - 13 Aug 2017
DateE-pub ahead of print - 14 Feb 2018
DatePublished (current) - 1 Mar 2019
Issue number1
Number of pages25
Pages (from-to)101-125
Early online date14/02/18
Original languageEnglish


Scholarship on transnational encounter has predominantly focused on men's cross-cultural interactions. This article breaks new ground by exploring women's roles in similar forms of linguistic and power negotiation within the context of English convents founded in Europe during the seventeenth century. Moreover, recent scholarship on English convents has so far remained silent on the question of how these women negotiated the language barriers that many of them faced. This article proposes an answer by examining the correspondence sent in the 1620s from the English Benedictine convent in Brussels. These letters reveal the changing ways in which English nuns relied on both male and female translators to communicate. In so doing, this article expands existing scholarly understanding of epistolary and literary culture by exploring the authorial strategies employed in the convent, which afforded the nuns a sense of authority over their texts. The letters were vital avenues for the women to express dissent, and raise concerns over the way their community was governed. Finally, despite being enclosed institutions, English convents in exile were not monoglot spaces but porous sites of multi-lingual encounter.

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