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EN2J1/EN3J1 Women and Writing, 1150-1450

Convenor: Dr Sarah Wood

mariedefrance
Module description and aims

‘Who painted the lion?’ The best-known female character in Middle 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 (because women generally could not read Latin). 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), and the first professional woman writer in Europe (Christine de Pizan).

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 or by women authors. We will focus in particular on writings for and by religious women who lived enclosed lives in anchorholds, exploring these texts' concerns with control of the female body. The module will also introduce students to the work of several major female authors writing from the 12th to the 15th centuries in a range of modes (romance, religious vision, love poetry, polemic).

Syllabus
Introduction: Medieval antifeminisms and the female voice

Week 1. Extracts from antifeminist writings (to be provided as PDFs from the Library; see the link to module reading list). We will discuss these extracts alongside The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale, with which you should already have some familiarity from your first-year work.

Chaucer’s women

Week 2. Chaucer, The Legend of Good Women.

Week 3. Chaucer, The Man of Law’s Introduction, Prologue, Tale and Epilogue; The Clerk’s Prologue and Tale; The Physician’s Tale.

Two European women writers: love poetry, romance, and polemic

Week 4. Marie de France, Lais (Penguin translation). Please read the Prologue together with Guigemar, Le Fresne, Bisclavret, Lanval, Yonec, Laüstic, Chevrefoil.

Week 5. Christine de Pizan, Selected Writings (Norton edn). Please read One Hundred Ballads (selection), The God of Love's Letter, The Book of the City of Ladies (extracts), The Book of the Three Virtues (extracts), pp. 5-29, 116-73.

Religious literature for women

Week 7. Anchoritic literature: selections from Ancrene Wisse (ed. by Watson and Savage). Please read Author's Introduction, Part II Outer Senses, Part III Inner Feelings, Part IV Temptations (up to p. 128), Part VII Love, Part VIII Outer Rule, pp. 47-128, pp. 189-207.

Week 8. Anchoritic literature: selected texts (ed. by Watson and Savage). Please read Sawles Warde, Holy Maidenhood, The Wooing of our Lord, An Orison to God Almighty, A Song of Praise to Our Lord and An Orison to St Mary, pp. 209-57, 322-30.

Week 9. Julian of Norwich, Showings, available online hereLink opens in a new window. Please read chapters I-IX, XVI-XXII, XXVII-XXXIII (in Part I of the text), XLV-LII (in Part II), LVIII-LXIII (in Part III).

Week 10. Lives of female saints: selections from Middle English Legends of Women Saints, ed. by Reames, available online here. Please read The Stanzaic Life of St Margaret of Antioch, The Stanzaic Life of St Katherine of Alexandria, and Osbern Bockenham's The Life of St Anne.

Books to buy
  • The Riverside Chaucer, ed. by L. D. Benson et al (you may already have this from your first year). This contains The Canterbury Tales and The Legend of Good Women.*
  • 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 Works (Classics of Western Spirituality Series) Paulist Press, 1991

*Alternatively, if you already have a copy of The Norton Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales, ed. by David Lawton from your first year, you could use that book for weeks 1 and 3 and acquire a copy of Geoffrey Chaucer, Dream Visions and Other Poems, ed. by Kathryn Lynch (Norton, 2006) for week 2 on The Legend of Good Women. If you already have a copy of The Canterbury Tales: Seventeen Tales and the General Prologue, ed. by Kolve and Olson (Norton, 2018), you could use that for weeks 1 and 3, but it does not include The Physician's Tale so you would need to get a copy of that extra tale from the Library.

Assessment

The assessment for this module will vary depending on your year of study:

  • Students in intermediate years will write 1 x 4000 word essay. Essay titles will be provided by the convenor.
  • Students in their final year will write 1 x 5000 word essay. Students will devise their own titles, in consultation with the module convenor.

Titles and instructions for your assessed essays will be published here.Link opens in a new window

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module intermediate-year students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a broad understanding of the variety of women’s experience and writing during the European Middle Ages; of the medieval antifeminist tradition and responses to it; of the ways in which medieval women navigated their relationships to religious and textual authority; of the gendering of voice and authorial identities in medieval texts; and of approaches to medieval texts informed by modern theorisations of gender and sexuality
  • Apply their knowledge of historical contexts and genres to independent reading and analysis of texts
  • Use a range of techniques in order to analyse literary texts including close reading of primary texts, critical reading of secondary materials, carrying out searches for appropriate scholarly materials relevant to the materials studied on the course
  • Effectively and accurately communicate arguments and analysis in response to essay questions provided by module tutor

By the end of the module final-year students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate a coherent and detailed understanding, informed where relevant by recent scholarship, of the variety of women’s experience and writing during the European Middle Ages; of the medieval antifeminist tradition and responses to it; of the ways in which medieval women navigated their relationships to religious and textual authority; of the gendering of voice and authorial identities in medieval texts; and of approaches to medieval texts informed by modern theorisations of gender and sexuality
  • Deploy accurately in relation to particular texts their knowledge of the relationships between different genres and of the historical and cultural contexts in which the texts studied were produced
  • Develop an independent and creative response to primary texts studied on the course
  • Apply their knowledge and understanding in order to initiate and carry out an extended piece of writing
Pre-requisites

Students are expected to have studied EN121 Medieval to Renaissance Literature.

Reading listLink opens in a new window

Required readings for the weekly seminars and suggested further readings are provided in the module reading list.

Seminar materialsLink opens in a new window

Instructions for weekly seminars will be published here one week in advance of each seminar.