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The Cloud of Unknowing

Revelations of Divine Love

#onthisday in 1373, an anchoress, known as Mother Juliana, recovered from an illness during which she experienced sixteen visions of Christ. Revelations of Divine Love, which contains her visions, is unique not just because of what it contains but because of what it is. The earliest surviving example of a book written in English by a woman.

She was a near contemporary of four other English mystics – Walter Hilton, Richard Rolle, Margery Kempe, and an unknown author who wrote The Cloud of Unknowing – who also wrote in the vernacular. The reason for this may have been lack of education (Latin being the language of scholars), but more likely it was a stylistic choice because their writing was attempting to describe the divine in an intensely personal way.

Julian wrote for a general readership, while the unknown author of The Cloud of Unknowing wrote in a style to be read by a young hermit. The metaphor of a cloud used to represent a barrier between the reader and true knowledge:

you must step above it stoutly but deftly, with a devout and delightful stirring of love, and struggle to pierce that darkness above you; and beat on that thick cloud of unknowing with a sharp dart of longing love, and do not give up, whatever happens.

This got me to thinking about readership and the hope an author has for their audience.

My usual readership is mostly an academic audience, who seek a very specific structure and I have to hammer my written form into an approximation of the discipline in question. But my blog, for whom is this written?

Perhaps ironically for a public piece, the audience is… me. Or rather an idealised version of me who is more literate, nuanced, adroit and astute than my current earthly form. In that light, I write to improve how I write and to be a better writer than I would had I not turned my keyboard blogward.

The question today dear reader, for whom do you write? Perhaps it is to improve your own scribblings; perhaps it is to attract a general audience; or perhaps it is for a posterity which may, like Mother Juliana, engage with your work some seven hundred years hence.


Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich is licensed under Public Domain.

This post is day 011 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. If you want to get involved, you can get more info from 100daystooffload.com.


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