I have long been interested in how literature shapes individual readers, as well as broader social and culture practices and beliefs. Engaging with literary works can offer readers (at least) two important opportunities: the possibility to cultivate and practice empathy, and a window into the contested and dynamic nature of collective identity formation. Many students (indeed, many non-medievalists) find the Middle Ages very alien. In my work I seek to reveal the complexity and richness of works from a period that is often mischaracterized as violent or backward, or in which the sharp edges of ideological conflict have been effaced by time, leaving an impression of homogeneity of belief.
In my work as a teacher-scholar I seek to reveal the complexity of thought and the sophistication of literary practice visible in the medieval texts that I study. I seek, moreover, to recover the processes through which writers and readers alike constitute their sense of themselves as individual and as social and political subjects. Texts shape the conditions of possibility for those living at a given time and place, while simultaneously serving as sites of struggle and conflict over the construction of identities, individual or collective, and social relationships. In the Middle Ages, as today, events do not have foregone conclusions. The actions of people, including the texts of all kinds that they produce, play a part in social, cultural, and political struggle by delimiting social bodies, defining “the good”, and laying out the parameters for the performance of one’s identity.
My monograph in progress, The Political Pastoral: Shepherds, Sheep, and Wolves between Late Medieval France and Burgundy (1364-1461), which I am currently writing with the support of an ACLS fellowship, explores questions related to political organization and the exercise of power. The trials faced by Charles V, Charles VI, and Charles VII of France – including foreign invasion, mental illness, and civil war – and the broader concerns to which they gave rise, were often negotiated figuratively, via a staging of shepherd, sheep, and wolf. The complex cultural imaginary surrounding these figures – developed in Biblical sources, classical and medieval eclogues, fables and beast epics, encyclopedic works, pastourelles, visual and material culture – produces a robust range of potential meanings which writers freely deployed and recombined. Unconstrained by generic norms, late medieval French and Burgundian authors used the pastoral mode to delineate theoretical premises of political philosophy and to respond to urgent challenges. The questions I explore continue to resonate in our current moment: what are the obligations of the ruler to the ruled? what separates a ruler from a tyrant, and who has the right to name tyrants as such? what can be done when the head of a body politic is not able to function?
I’m also in the process of co-editing (with Anne-Hélène Miller) a volume of essays on the Roman de la Rose which is forthcoming in the MLA series, Approaches to Teaching. I never get tired of teaching the Rose, and am excited to help make this medieval bestseller more accessible to instructors and students.
I have taught more than two dozen different courses since my arrival at the University of Chicago. Some of my favorites include the advanced seminars Débats et querelles littéraires au Moyen Âge, Medieval Beasts, and Love’s Books, Love’s Looks: Textual and Visual Perspectives on the Roman de la rose, and the introductory literature courses Jeanne d’Arc: histoire et légende and Voix féminines dans la littérature française. I also enjoy teaching in the core, especially the Civilization sequence taught in Paris, and the civilization sequence on Gender and Sexuality.
I also teach regularly in the Collegiate Scholars Program, which I find both fun and rewarding, especially when my Scholars later matriculate to the U of C!
- Allegorical Bodies: Power and Gender in Late Medieval France. University of Toronto Press, 2015.
This work examines 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.
- Alain Chartier c.1385-1430: Père de l’éloquence française. Edited volume, in collaboration with Emma Cayley and Joan McRae. Brill Publishers, 2015.
- Theorizing the Ideal Sovereign: The Rise of the French Vernacular Royal Biography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.
- “La ‘pastourrie’ et l’histoire au temps de Charles VII : étude du Pastoralet.” Forthcoming in La France à l’époque de Charles VII. Eds. Florence Bouchet and Philippe Maupeu.
- “Allegory, Semiotics, and Salvation: the parable of the talents in the Songe du viel pelerin.” Philippe de Mézières: rhétorique et poétique. Ed. Joël Blanchard with the collaboration of Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski and Antoine Calvet. Geneva: Droz, 2019. 163-85.
- “Cognition and Conversion in Alain Chartier’s Livre de l’Espérance.” New Medieval Literatures 19 (2019): 243-74.
- “‘ala grant temps de douleur languissant’: Grief and Mourning in Girart d’Amiens’s Istoire le roy Charlemaine”. Speculum 93.1 (January 2018): 1-26.
- “A Fair Lady takes on ‘Maistre Allain’: Anne de Graville’s Belle Dame sans mercy.” French Forum 42.3 (winter 2017): 471-91.
- “En quoi la ville est-elle un espace féminin/féministe? Les corps politiques de Christine de Pizan.” Cités humanistes, cités politiques (1400-1600). Eds. Elisabeth Crouzet-Pavan, Denis Crouzet, Philippe Desan. Paris: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2014. 89-107.
- “‘Aucuns de ma langue’: Language and Political Identity in Late Medieval France.” Explorations in Renaissance Culture 39.2 (2013): 97-112. *Winner of the Albert W. Fields Award for best article published in EIRC in 2013*
- “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).
- “Public Displays of Affection: Love and Kinship in Philippe de Mézières’s Épistre au roi Richart.” New Medieval Literatures 8 (2006): 99-123.
- “Le Livre des quatre dames d’Alain Chartier: complaintes amoureuses, critiques sociales.” Le Moyen Français 48 (2001): 7-21.
Recent Courses in RLL
- FREN 21503/31503 Approches à l'analyse littéraire (Autumn 2016)
- FREN 21700/31700 Le Roman de la Rose (Autumn 2017)
- FREN 23003 Introduction: Voix féminines dans la littérature française (Winter 2020)
- FREN 22910/32910 Medieval Beasts (Autumn 2018)