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EN2J1/EN3J1 Women and Writing, 1150-1450

From 2019/20, there will be two new module codes:
Intermediate Year: EN2J1
Final Year: EN3J1
*Please ensure that you register for the correct code for your year of study*

Convenor: Dr Sarah Wood

Seminars: Wednesday 10:00-11:30

This 15-CAT module will be taught via 9 x 1.5 hour seminars in term 1 in the 2019-20 academic year.


Medieval antifeminisms and the female voice: Extracts from antifeminist writings + The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale (in the Riverside Chaucer).

The seminar in week 1 will begin with a mini-lecture from the convenor introducing some of the themes and contexts for the module. We will then discuss the assigned extracts from medieval antifeminist writings alongside the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale. Please click here for the reading list in Talis Aspire and see the set reading for week 1 for links to the extracts.

Please ensure that you have read all the extracts and the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale before the seminar. Please bring your copy of the Riverside Chaucer to the seminar and please ensure that you have copies of the extracts with you, either as printouts or as downloaded PDFs in your laptop or tablet.

Some further pointers, and some suggestions for further/secondary reading can be found on the Moodle page for the module under 'Week 1 seminar'.

If you have any questions, or encounter any problems accessing the extracts, please email me:

Module description and aims

‘Who painted the lion?’ The best-known female character in medieval English literature, the Wife of Bath, was written by a man, yet as that text makes clear, Chaucer made women, their relationships, their trials, and their position in relation to textual culture his favourite themes. The medieval period before Chaucer had witnessed a remarkable early flowering of religious literature written in Britain in the vernacular for women. The period 1150-1450 also saw the diverse literary outputs of the first named woman author writing in the British Isles (Marie de France), the first woman author writing in English (Julian of Norwich), the first professional woman writer in Europe (Christine de Pizan), and the earliest autobiography in English, written by the wife, mother, and visionary Margery Kempe.

This module explores the centrality of female voices, real and fictional, to the history of medieval writing by studying Chaucer’s women alongside examples of pre- and post-Chaucerian texts written specifically for female audiences. The course will also introduce students to the work of four major female authors writing from the 12th to the 15th centuries in a range of modes (romance, religious vision, love poetry, polemic).

Introduction: Medieval antifeminisms and the female voice

Week 1. Extracts from antifeminist writings; The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale (in the Riverside Chaucer).

Chaucer’s women

Week 2. The Legend of Good Women (in the Riverside Chaucer).

Week 3. The Man of Law’s Tale, The Clerk’s Tale, The Physician’s Tale (in the Riverside Chaucer)

Women writers I: courtly love and women's history

Week 4. Marie de France, Lais (Penguin translation).

Week 5. Christine de Pizan, Selected Writings (Norton edn)

Religious literature for women

Week 7. Anchoritic literature: selections from Ancrene Wisse (ed. by Watson and Savage).

Week 8. Lives of female saints: selections from Middle English Legends of Women Saints, ed. by Reames, available online here.

Women writers II: Two female visionaries

Week 9. Julian of Norwich, Showings (Norton edn), selections.

Week 10. Selections from The Book of Margery Kempe (ed. by Staley, TEAMS edition: available online here).

Books to buy
  • L.D. Benson et al. (ed.) The Riverside Chaucer (you should have this book already from EN121)
  • Marie de France, Lais, trans. by G. Burgess and K. Busby, 2nd edn (Penguin, 2003)
  • Christine de Pizan, The Selected Writings, ed. and trans by R. Blumenfeld-Kosinski and K. Brownlee (Norton, 1997)
  • A. Savage & N. Watson (eds and tr.) Anchoritic Spirituality: 'Ancrene Wisse' and Associated Writers (Classics of Western Spirituality Series) Paulist Press, 1991
  • Julian of Norwich, Showings, ed. Denise Baker (Norton, 2005)
Learning outcomes
  • Acquire a knowledge of the variety of women’s experience and writing during the European Middle Ages;
  • Develop an informed historical understanding of the medieval antifeminist tradition and responses to it;
  • Gain an appreciation of the ways in which medieval women navigated their relationships to religious and textual authority;
  • Acquire an ability to reflect critically on the gendering of voice and authorial identities in medieval texts

From 2019-20, the assessment for this module will vary depending on your year of study:

  • Students in intermediate years will write 1 x 4000 word essay, from a selection of titles provided by the convenor. Deadline Tuesday week 12 of term 1.
  • Students in their final year will write 1 x 5000 word essay, on a topic of their own devising (in consultation with the module convenor). Deadline Tuesday week 12 of term 1.

Students are expected to have studied EN121 Medieval to Renaissance Literature or to have equivalent prior reading knowledge of Middle English literature.

Current students please use the Moodle page for the module.