The Woman Writing and Written in Medieval Literature

English 575
The Woman Writing and Written about
in Medieval Literature
“Marie is my name, I am of France. Perhaps several clerks will declare my work is theirs.
I do not want them to take credit for it!”
Instructor: Dr. Celia M. Lewis
Class Meetings: Wed. 5:30-9:15
Office: GTM 232
Phone: 257-3678
Home phone: 870-901-7430 (before 10:30 PM only, please)
E-mail addresses:
Office Hours: MW 10:30-12:00; 1-2; W 3:45-4:45; F: 8:30-12:30
Course Description:
This course takes as objects of study medieval texts authored by women, and representations of women
in medieval texts. As we read and analyze each of the works, identifying its themes and interpreting its
significance, we will consider the unique issues, questions, and problems the work raises. We will
examine the texts in the light of current scholarship and theoretical trends, juxtaposing each work to
the other works with which we are familiar. The subject of women's education, domestic reality, and
culture in the Middle Ages will be covered, as will the concept of 'women's writing' or ‘écriture
feminine.’ Our discussion will be inclusive of but not limited to the following questions: How do
representations of women in female-authored texts differ from representations in male-authored texts?
To what extent do powerful female characters in male or female-authored texts defy or balance the
political reality of a society where women are virtually powerless? How did medieval women writers
use texts or writing to gain authority or power? All critical views and methods of analysis will be
welcomed in our analyses and discussion.
Texts: *
The Book of Margery Kempe. Trans. & Ed, Lynn Staley.Norton Critical Edition. New York: W. W. Norton &
Co., 2001. ISBN: 0-393-97639-4
Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Wife of Bath. Ed. Peter G. Beidler. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Boston:
Bedford Books, 1996. ISBN: 0312111282
Heroic Women From the Old Testament in Middle English Verse. Ed. Russell A. Peck. TEAMS Middle English
Texts Series. Kalamazoo, Mich.: Medieval Institute Publications, 1991. ISBN: 1-879288-11-7
The Lais of Marie de France. Trans. Robert Hanning and Joan Ferrante. 1978. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic,
1995. ISBN: 080102031x
Pizan, Christine de. The Book of the City of Ladies. Persea Books, 1998. ISBN: 0892552301
The Showings of Julian of Norwich. Ed. Denise N. Baker. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005
ISBN: 0-393-97915-6
* Supplemental texts and critical articles will be placed on library reserve.
* Please subscribe to the medfem listserve for the duration of the quarter, so that you will be a part of an
ongoing scholarly dialogue about medieval women. To subscribe, send an e-mail to,
and type “subscribe medfem-1” into the subject heading.
Goals and Objectives: By the end of this course, I hope that you will:
1. Know much about the cultural and historical context of the course texts, and be able to discuss
connections between those texts and the world into which they were born.
2. Be familiar with major theoretical issues relevant to analyzing writing by and about women.
3. Be familiar with major texts of medieval writing by women, and medieval texts in which women feature
4. Show professional-level familiarity with major secondary texts related to the course readings, and have
experience applying those texts to primary works in seminar discussions and during oral presentations.
We will show comprehension of critical scholarly work by making specific and appropriate references
to secondary material in the course assignments.
4. Have increased competence as an academic researcher and writer, as demonstrated in a conference-length
paper of original thought (suitable for presentation), and an article-length essay (suitable, with revision,
for submission to publication).
5. Show increased competence in professional-level teaching and presentation skills; these skills will be
gained through oral presentations in seminar meetings, and in a “mini” conference presentation of our
papers at the end of the semester.
Activities and Assignments:
1. MIDDLE ENGLISH: We’ll all read Middle English aloud when we encounter it. (I will distribute a guide to
ME pronunciation, and we will practice. None of us is a master of pronouncing ME, so don’t panic. Without
Margery Kempe here to guide and correct us, the best we can do is . . . our best).
2. READINGS IN PRIMARY TEXTS: You may find the ME selections challenging at first, but please
persevere, for your efforts will be rewarded with a deepening appreciation for the text. I suggest the following
method for preparing for class:
a) To get a sense of the work, quickly read the whole assignment, not pausing over confusing phrases.
b) Read the assignment a second time, this time thoroughly. As you read, mark your text, making
marginal notes (adding what medieval scribes might call glosses) to remind yourself later on of plot,
characters, significant elements of technique or style, narrative shifts, recurring or surprising images or
motifs or themes, genre.
c) Try to determine what the attitude of the narrator is toward his or her subject. Try to determine the
narrator or author’s sense of audience.
d) When finished with your reading, ask yourself: What do I know about the assigned reading? What
can I say about it in class? What point, issue, or question do I want to raise?
3. ORAL PRESENTATIONS: Each student will give 2 oral presentations (about 15 minutes each) on major
secondary essays. (The essays will be from your books, or in articles listed on the Bibliography/Reserve list).
4. CONFERENCE PAPER: Each student will write a conference paper of 11-13 pages using MLA style unless
the student has already targeted a journal for the long paper which uses Chicago Style.
5. Each student will present his/her paper in a “mini” conference at the end of the course. Not only will this give
you the opportunity to learn more about the work of your colleagues, the experience will offer practice in the
presenting of conference papers.
6. ARTICLE-LENGTH PAPER: Each student will determine an area of interest specifically relating to the
course material, and by mid-semester will submit a research topic in that area. Your article length paper may be
an extension of your conference essay. Based on your chosen topic, you will write an article-length paper of 1820 pages.
7. ARTICLE or CONFERENCE PAPER PRELIMS.: To initiate you in the experience of publication or of
conference presentation you will select a specific target journal or conference—a journal that might be
interested in publishing your work, or a professional conference where you might like to read your paper. (I can
suggest journal and conference possibilities, but you will ultimately determine the appropriate forum for your
writing). For article prelims, your reference style (MLA or Chicago Style) must conform to the target journal’s.
Please include with your final paper a cover letter directed to the journal’s editor (I’ll provide you with an
example of such a letter), and a few sample pages from the target journal. For conference paper prelims, you
will need to submit an abstract and cover letter with your conference essay (I’ll be happy to provide you with a
sample conference letter and a sample abstract).
8. READING JOURNALS: Reading Journals give students an opportunity to respond to reading with informal
writing. They can be a gold mine of ideas for class discussion, your conference and article papers, and for any
teaching you may do or essays you may write in the future. Here’s how Reading Journals work: after doing your
reading for class, write a brief critical response (1 1/2 to two typed pages; no more than 2 pages) to the reading,
and/or to a central question, issue, or problem related to the text. Journals need not—indeed, they should not—
make excessive reference to secondary material; rather, journals should offer a forum for you to develop your
own thoughts, and make connections on paper between the readings and our class discussions. Revise/edit your
journals for clarity and grammatical correctness before handing them in, but please be assured that I don’t
expect journals to have the same polish as your conference paper and article—works that are intended for
presentation. Journals are due at the beginning of class.
Like you, I regard plagiarism as a dishonorable breach of the ethical contract we have with one another. Perhaps
I should remind you that “plagiarism” is any instance in which you or I present the work of someone else as our
own—that includes lifting and/or cutting and pasting work from Internet sites. Plagiarized work will receive a
zero. The most common instance of plagiarism is half-accidental; it is the use of unacknowledged quotations.
However, even accidental plagiarism is unacceptable, and comes with serious consequences. Please do your
own work, for you certainly have the intelligence to do so.
Late Papers:
Late papers and oral reports are not acceptable, as our seminar depends on them for its material. If you have an
unforeseen emergency that prevents your delivery of an oral report or paper, inform me immediately of that illfated news, so that I can change our seminar plans. NB: Poor Planning Does NOT Constitute An Emergency!
Your Grade:
You will establish your grade based on these assignments:
Two Oral Presentations:
(essay discussion, class leading)
10 Reading Journals (20 pts each):
Conference Paper (10-12 pages):
Conference Paper or Article Prelims
Article-length Essay (18-20 pages):
200 points
200 points
250 points
50 points
300 points
1000 points
A = 900-1000, B = 800-899, C = 700-800, D = 600-700, F = below 600
** Please examine the above goals, objectives, assignments, activities, and grading scheme and determine
whether or not they seem to you academically appropriate, pedagogically sound, and useful to your purposes in
this course. If they are not, tell me. I welcome your feedback on these and any other issues related to the course,
and hope that you will provide it.
The following schedule is subject to revision. Please check Blackboard often, and note any changes made in
Nov. 30, 2005
Introduction and Overview of the Course
Dec. 7, 2005
Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Tale
The Romance of the Rose (selections)
Susan Crane, “Alison’s Incapacity and Poetic Instability in the Wife of Bath’s Tale” DUE: Reading Journal 1
(on The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale)
DUE: Reading Journal 2 (on critical readings in the Wife of Bath book)
Dec. 14, 2005
The Lais of Marie de France
Harriet Spiegel, “The Male Animal in the Fables of Marie de France”
DUE: Reading Journal 3
Jan. 4, 2006
The Book of Margery Kempe
“Public Postures and Private Maneuvers: Roles Medieval Women Play”
“Sexual Economics, Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, and The Book of Margery Kempe”
“Problems of Authority in Late Medieval English Mysticism: Language, Agency, and Authority in The Book of
Margery Kempe”
“Autobiography of a New ‘Creatur’: Spirituality, Selfhood, and Authorship in ‘The Book of Margery Kempe’”
**Guest lecture: Dr. Hurtig will discuss her research on the writings of Marie de France
DUE: Reading Journal 4
Jan. 11, 2006
The Book of Margery Kempe
The Shewings of Julian of Norwich
“Autobiography of a New ‘Creatur’” Female
“Margery Kempe: Social Critic”
DUE: Reading Journal 5
Jan 18, 2006
The Shewings of Julian of Norwich
“The Goodness of God: A Julian Study”
“The Motherhood Theme in Julian of Norwich”
DUE: Reading Journal 6
Jan. 25, 2006
DUE: preliminary typed draft of your conference paper for Peer Review
The Book of the City of Ladies, Part I and Part II up to 17 (up to page 125)
DUE: Reading Journal 7
FRIDAY. Jan 27
DUE: Conference Paper (Deliver your essay to my office during my office hours, 8:30-12:30)
Feb. 1, 2006
The Book of the City of Ladies, Part II and Part III (page 125-257)
Joan M. Ferrante, Chapter 6:“Women Representing Women” from To the Glory of Her Sex (we are mostly
interested in pages 204-13, which deal with Christine de Pizan)
Betsy McCormick: “Building the Ideal City: Female Memorial Praxis in Christine de Pizan’s Cite des Dames)
DUE: Reading Journal 8
Feb. 8, 2006
Heroic Women from the Old Testament in Middle English Verse
“Chapter 10: Women’s Symbols” from Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to
Medieval Women
DUE: Reading Journal 9
Feb. 15, 2006
DUE: Reading Journal 10: Self –evaluation of your work in this class
DUE: Preliminary typed draft of your article-length essay for peer Review
Feb. 22, 2005—Last day of classes
Conference Presentations
DUE: Article-length essay