Course Instructor Days Times Room
ENGL3300 CAMP, CYNTHIA TR 12::3 PM 0259


Medieval Women's Literary Culture

We know of very few named medieval Englishwomen who actually wrote their own texts – that is, actually put pen to parchment themselves. On the other hand, we also know that medieval Englishwomen were deeply involved in the expanding book culture of medieval and early modern England as readers, patrons, and sometimes composers. In this class, we will use this seeming dichotomy to broaden our ideas of “literary creation” beyond the Romantic notion of the single, originary “author” to include a wide array of engagements with the literary process. Beyond writing itself, women could also influence literary production as patrons, collaborators, translators, and even readers. As participants in broader literary communities, medieval women were not passive consumers of  male-penned texts, but rather actively contributed to the processes of meaning-making. This class will therefore not only engage with questions of gender, but also seek to trouble and rethink ideas of authorship and agency in literary production.

We will read, primarily in translation, the texts composed by and for famous medieval women (Queen Maud of England, Marie de France) as well as anonymous ones, highly literate and educated women (Christine de Pizan) and unlettered ones (Margery Kempe), sophisticated theologians (Julian of Norwich) and pragmatic businesswomen (the Pastons). Students should expect to encounter a wide array of genres (from saints’ lives to private letters) and women’s social positions (wife to queen to nun to academic) as we traverse almost 450 years of women’s literary culture. Evaluation will include formal essays, informal written responses, examinations, and a final portfolio project. Attendance is required; a rigorous (but not draconian) attendance policy will be in place.

For the required texts and additional information, please see