In broad terms, I see my research grappling with the ways in which individuals construct their sense of identity in relation to a social order that is itself in flux, subject to conflict and renegotiation of roles. Like chess pieces (the game of chess was often-allegorized by medieval writers in both political and erotic terms), individuals may be seen as constrained by the circumstances into which they are born – including their sex, religion, social class, geographic region, or political order – but the collective power of such factors still allows for a degree of individual agency. Literary works are essential to the processes by which writers and readers alike constitute their sense of themselves as individual and as social and political subjects. Such texts shape the conditions of possibility for those living at a given time and place, and at the same time serve as sites for struggle and conflict over the construction of identities, individual or collective, and social relationships.
In my forthcoming book, Allegorical Bodies: Power and Gender in Late Medieval France (University of Toronto Press, 2015) I examine the dynamic processes by which gendered language, law, and thought made possible the articulation of new notions of France and French identity during the tumultuous reign of the mad king Charles VI (1380-1422). This period witnessed the emergence in literary texts of the allegorical figures of France (portrayed as queen and mother of the French people) and the University of Paris (depicted as the fille du roy). The human form provides an imaginary space onto which may be mapped an ideal social order, while the allegorical figures of kingdom and University – presented as mothers, fair beloveds, dutiful daughters – enact highly-conventional paradigms of femininity and sexuality, a conformity that reinforces the “natural” hierarchy inherent in the gender binary.
The rise of these female allegorical figures was accompanied by the formalization and promulgation of what would come to be known as Salic Law, according to which no woman might rule the kingdom of France, and which itself became constitutive of French identity. In both cases, gendered literary and legal language is deployed to define who is French, what it means to be a subject of the kingdom, and by whom power can legitimately be wielded, as well as to connect appropriate political conduct to salvation. The ideas about France and Frenchness forged by the allegory of the kingdom and by Salic Law surpass the limits of Charles VI’s reign, privileging and naturalizing the love of the French for their “mother”, France, and their rule by a roi très chrétien.
My teaching interests are varied. I have taught almost a dozen different courses for graduate and advanced undergraduate students since my arrival at the University of Chicago. Some of my favorites include Débats et querelles littéraires au Moyen Âge, Love’s Books, Love’s Looks: Textual and Visual Perspectives on the Roman de la rose, and Women in French Literature. I very much enjoy participating in the core, especially the Civilization sequence taught in Paris, and the new civilization sequence on Gender and Sexuality. This year I look forward to teaching a new course on Joan of Arc, medieval and modern.
- Allegorical Bodies: Power and Gender in Late Medieval France. Forthcoming, University of Toronto Press, 2015.
- Alain Chartier c.1385-1430: Père de l’éloquence française. Edited volume, in collaboration with Emma Cayley and Joan McRae. Forthcoming, Brill Publishers, 2015.
- Theorizing the Ideal Sovereign: The Rise of the French Vernacular Royal Biography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.
- “The King’s Two Daughters: Isabelle of France and the University of Paris, Fille du Roy.” Republics of Letters: A Journal for the Study of Knowledge, Politics, and the Arts 3, no. 2 (November 15, 2013).
- “How to Become the ‘roy des frans’: the Performance of Kingship in Philippe de Mézières’s Songe du vieil pelerin.” The Age of Philippe de Mézières. Ed. Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Kiril Petkov. Brill, 2011.
- “Desire, Deception, and Display: Linguistic Performance in Jehan de Saintré,” in Visualizing Medieval Performance: Perspectives, Histories, Contexts. Ed. Elina Gertsman. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008. 193-206.
- “Public Displays of Affection: Love and Kinship in Philippe de Mézières’s Épistre au roi Richart.” New Medieval Literatures 8 (2006): 99-123.