The anchoress Julian of Norwich (c.1342–after 1416) is the earliest known woman writer in English. She claimed to have received a series of “shewings,” or revelations, which she discussed in two works, usually referred to as the Short Text and the Long Text. The second of these is a much-expanded version of the first, and indicates how Julian came to reflect on her shewings after about twenty years. We know little of her life or of the authors who might have influenced her. She describes herself as being “a simple creature unlettered,” but it would be wrong to take “unlettered” to mean illiterate or ignorant of what others had written. Julian is one of the great authors of the English Middle Ages (she has been compared to Chaucer), and her writings indicate that she had more than a passing knowledge of theological literature. That she was theologically well read seems indisputable, even if scholars differ as to what she actually read and how she came to read it.
In spite of her medieval context, one might say that Julian is quite a recent arrival on the theological scene. Theologians didn’t give her shewings serious attention until the twentieth century. A version of her Long Text appeared in 1670 but did not exactly make her a household name. And it was only in 1978 that readers were able to study the first critical edition of her writings (edited by Edmund Colledge and James Walsh).