ENGL408A - Literature by Women Before 1800: Medieval Women Writers

 “What medieval women writers?” you may be asking yourself; “were there any woman writers in the Middle Ages?”  The answer to that question is a definitive “yes.”  Despite male dominance of medieval learning, reading, and writing, women writers in medieval England made surprisingly powerful and influential contributions to literate culture, producing romances, lyric poetry, saints' lives, biography, literary and cultural criticism, personal letters, and accounts of religious and mystical visions. They wrote about adultery and holy virginity, unfortunate marriages and romantic love, spiritual ecstasy and problems with disobedient sons and daughters.  In this course we will examine texts that address all of these subjects, paying particular attention to the cultural circumstances within which medieval women read and wrote:  as theologians, mystics, cloistered nuns, heretics, urban and country housewives, and royal advisors.  We will look at the ways in which medieval women used available institutional and textual traditions not merely to critique, implicitly and explicitly, the prevailing misogynist thinking of medieval society but to comment on their place in that society and establish their own authoritative cultural voices.  Readings will include works by Marie de France, Clemence of Barking Abbey, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, the Paston women, Christine de Pizan, and anonymous poets. We shall also look at non-Western examples of medieval women’s writing as a basis for comparison. The course will place some emphasis on visual materials, and I hope also to include a mini festival of films about medieval women. Requirements include class participation, a short and a long paper, a group project and presentation, and a final exam.  With a few minor exceptions, all readings will be in modern English. 


Two English courses in literature or permission of the department.