Writing by and for women in the twelfth and thirteenth century in England is less well known than that of the later medieval period of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe. This is the first book-length exploration of a rich literary culture embracing several vernaculars as well as Latin. It focuses particularly on women's uses and adaptations of the powerful ideal of virgin sanctity. Saints' lives were used by lay and religious women in a range of ways, whether as exemplary of vocational biography, as historiography, as texts in the politics of court and convent, or as vernacular theology. As a sampling of this earlier literary culture, saints' lives suggest that there is a wealth of texts and manuscripts which need further study before we can map the literary and linguistic history of women in medieval England.