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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 plus Chaucer, The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale. The extracts will be provided as a PDF scan from the Library.

Chaucer’s women

Week 2. Chaucer, The Legend of Good Women.

Week 3. Chaucer, The Man of Law’s Tale, The Clerk’s Tale, The Physician’s Tale.

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

Week 4. Marie de France, Lais (Penguin translation). Selections to be confirmed.

Week 5. Christine de Pizan, Selected Writings (Norton edn). Selections to be confirmed.

Religious literature for women

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

Week 8. Anchoritic literature: texts from the Katherine Group (ed. by Watson and Savage). Selections to be confirmed.

Week 9. Julian of Norwich, Showings, selections, available online hereLink opens in a new window. Selections to be confirmed.

Week 10. Lives of female saints: selections from Middle English Legends of Women Saints, ed. by Reames, available online here. Selections to be confirmed.

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.

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.

  • 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
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.
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 or to have equivalent prior reading knowledge of Middle English literature.

Information for students interested in taking the module in 2022-23

The syllabus outlined on these pages has been updated for the 2022-23 academic year.

If you would like to discuss the module with the convenor, my office hours are Tuesdays 11-12 and Thursdays 12-1pm. Please sign up for an appointment hereLink opens in a new window.

You can also email me with any questions: sarah.wood@warwick.ac.uk.