Medieval women’s Literature
Medieval women’s Literature
How does writing empower women in the Middle Ages? Discuss in relation to TWO texts studied on the module.
Text 1: Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies
Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies, Penguin Classics, ed. and trans. by Rosalind Brown-Grant (2004). This text was written in French but we read it in translation.
Text 2: The Lais of Marie de France
e France, Marie., and Edward. Gallagher. The Lays of Marie De France. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2010. Web.
Recommended Secondary sources on author, not specific to primary texts! You must source this yourself! –
Christine de Pizan
Barbara Altmann & Deborah McGrady, eds., Christine de Pizan: A Casebook (London: Psychology Press, 2003)
The Cambridge companion to medieval women’s writing, edited by Carolyn Dinshaw and David Wallace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003). See essay by Roberta L. Krueger. Available online
Susan Groag-Bell, ‘Christine de Pizan (1364-1430): Humanism and the Problem of the Studious Woman,’ Feminist Studies 3.3/4 (1976), 173-184. Available online.
Rosalind Brown-Grant, Christine de Pizan and the moral defence of women: reading beyond gender (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)
Ruth Evans and Lesley Johnson, eds., Feminist Readings in Middle English Literature (Routledge, 1994)
Christine Laennec, ‘Unladylike Polemics: Christine de Pizan’s Strategies of Attack and Defense,’ Tusla Studies in Women’s Literature, 12.1 (1993), 47-59. Available online
. J. C. Laidlaw, ‘Christine de Pizan: An Author’s Progress,’ The Modern Language Review, 78.3 (1983), 525-550. Available online.
Carol M. Meale, Women and Literature in Britain, 1150-1500 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)
Jennifer Summit, Lost property: the woman writer and English literary history, 1380-1589 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000)
Marilynn Desmond, Christine de Pizan: Texts/Intertexts/Contexts (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1998)
Diane Watt, Medieval Women’s Writing (Polity, 2006). Available as an e-book.
Jody Enders, ‘The Feminist Mnemonics of Christine de Pizan,’ Modern Language Quarterly. 55, no. 3, Sept 1994, 231-250.
Questions to be asked of The Book of the City of Ladies:
- Examining Part I, chapters 1 and 2 of Book of the City of Ladies, what does the character ‘Christine’ reveal to be the impact on her of the kinds of literature that she has been reading? How does she explain this effect?
- What anxieties of authorship does ‘Christine’ reveal in the first chapter of Part I of The City of Ladies? Why might a medieval woman writer have experienced such anxieties?
- What solutions are offered to ‘Christine’ and by whom? Why are Christine’s instructors authoritative?
- How does Christine de Pizan (the author) employ an allegory of building a city in order to construct her argument about women?
- What is de Pizan’s argument about women? How is it effective? Why might she feel it necessary to include such statements as ‘there is nothing worse than a woman who is dissolute and depraved: she’s like a monster, a creature going against its own nature, which is to be timid, meek and pure’ (Part I, chapter 8)
- How is her book structured? How do parts two and three of the Book continue and complete her task? What is the significance of the Virgin Mary becoming Queen over this city of ladies?
Marie de France- Secondary sources
Roberta L. Kreuger, ‘Marie de France’ in Carolyn Dinshaw and David Wallace, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Women’s Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 172-183. E-book.
Catherine Batt, ‘The French of the English and Early British Women’s Literary Culture’ in The History of British Women’s Writing, 700-1500 (London: Routledge, 2012), 51-59. E-book.
June Hall McCash, “La vie seinte Audree: A Fourth Text by Marie de France?”, Speculum 77.3 (2002), 744-77. Access via JStor.
Logan E. Whalen, A Companion to Marie De France (Leiden: Brill, 2011). E-book.
Sharon Kinoshita and Peggy McCracken, Marie de France: A Critical Companion (D. S. Brewer: Cambridge, 2014), p. 11.
Liz Herbert McAvoy, Diane Watt. The History of British Women’s Writing, 700-1500 : Volume One. Palgrave Macmillan; 2012.
The Subject Matter
All of the Lais are about men and women who suffer in love, but there is no simple lesson in this mosaic of tales. Rather, in diverse ways, each tale inscribes social and sexual transgression, the fusion of animal and human natures, real and otherworld settings in a way that encourages readers to ‘gloss’, or interpret, for themselves.
Roberta L. Kreuger, ‘Marie de France’ in Carolyn Dinshaw and David Wallace, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Women’s Writing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 172-183 (p. 174).
The Lais consistently pay attention to the place of women in feudal structures, but not just to admonish or critique. Marie imagines new possibilities in which women could choose their own lovers […] or rescue men […]. The Lais imagine ways in which women can manipulate and exploit feudal structures, and they imagine the ways in which those structures may be changed through women’s desires and even agency, if only in a limited way.
Some Questions to be asked of the Lais
- What aspects of love are explored in our three lais under discussion?
- In what ways does each of our lais offer ‘new possibilities’ for women?
- In what ways are women’s possibilities limited and why?
Questions to consider to answer the essay question
Connection between the construction of womanhood and women’s writing?
- Cultural expectations of womanhood & pervasiveness of misogyny
- And also:
- i) Auctoritas/Authority – God was the ultimate authority/author and then man in God’s image. How could women presume to usurp the role of author?
- ii) Lack of literary foremothers/role models
- iii) Access to literacy
- iv) Access to tools of writing & the means to disseminate their work
- iv) Time and space (in their homes/lives/headspace) to do so…
What challenges did their historical/cultural circumstances present to women writers and readers?
Literary techniques to be discussed about each text