A ‘Queer Medieval’ Reading List

Update: I’ve had some great suggestions about more texts to include, so am adding those. Obviously I’ve not taught all of these, but will have to do so now. Thanks all! I’m also putting in my own publications, in best ‘confidence of a mediocre white man, appropriation thereof’ fashion. Original post below:

Recently, several people have asked if I have a reading list for teaching a ‘queer ‘medieval course or a course on medieval gender and sexuality, so I thought I would put some material up here, where it’s easy to access. I’ve included brief notes about why I like to teach these particular primary texts; the secondary material is mostly chosen to complement the primary material and isn’t intended to be exhaustive. There are a few quirky choices in there, simply because I’ve found they made sense to me. With one exception (Blake Gutt’s recent article), I have taught students using all of these secondary materials (not all at the same time!).

If you’re still reading, I hope this is useful to you – and if you feel like commenting to share your own favourite texts/combinations of texts, that’d be great!

Primary Texts

The following represent a completely personal selection, which I happen to think work well with the secondary scholarship here; they also work quite nicely with each other. Two further primary sources (putatively historical rather than literary) are incorporated into articles by Puff and by Boyd and Karras, listed under secondary material.

1). Le Roman de Silence. A thirteenth-century Arthurian verse-romance by Heldris de Cornuälle, ed. Lewis Thorpe (Cambridge, W. Heffer, 1972) or Silence: A Thirteenth-century French Romance. A facing page translation by Sarah Roche-Mahdi (East Lansing, MI: Michegan State University Press, 1992).

This is brilliant for packing in a lot of talking points: a debate between Nature and Nurture on the subject of gender; multiple transformations and disguises that cross gender categories; various forms of same-sex or atypical desire.

2) The Squire of Low Degree, in Sentimental and Humorous Romances, ed. Erik Cooper (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 2005). Online at http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/publication/kooper-sentimental-humorous-romances

My favourite teaching text ever. Enormous amounts of sexual and romantic weirdness, necrophiliac activity, tongue-in-cheek homoeroticism, etc. etc. etc. Plus it looks as if everyone from Shakespeare to Spenser was reading it in the sixteenth century. Great to read in combination with Dinshaw’s Getting Medieval or (she writes, modestly) with my forthcoming book, publication date TBA.

3) Alan of Lille, De planctu Naturae, ed. Nikolaus M. Häring, Studi Medievali 19 (Spoleto: Fondazione CISAM, 1978) or The Plaint of Nature, trans. James J. Sheridan, Mediaeval Sources in Translation 26 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1980).

I tend to set this in extracts, because it’s so often discussed in the secondary scholarship. Lots of quite vituperative depictions of same-sex desires and/or gender nonconformity. This works well with the Roman de la Rose and the work of Dinshaw and Lochrie.

4) Gower, John, Confessio Amantis, ed. Russell A. Peck with Latin translations by Andrew Galloway, 3 vols (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute, 2004).

Masses of same-sex desire, gender nonconformity, bodily diversity going on here. Obviously, it works well with Diane Watt’s Amoral Gower, but is also good with Alan of Lille and anything touching on Classical literature (since that’s where Gower’s getting most of his material).

5) Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose, ed. Felix Lécoy, 3 vols, Societé des Anciens Textes Français (Paris: Fermin-Didot, Champion, 1914-24) or The Romance of the Rose, trans. Charles Dahlberg, 3rd ed. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995).

I can’t begin to sum up the Roman, but it was one of the most enormously popular books of its day, with a huge influence. It stirred up enormous controversy, is arguably thoroughly misogynistic, and has heterosex at its core, despite a healthy ongoing interest in all sorts of broadly queer desires. Good to read with the Roman de Silence‘s debate between Nature and Nurture.

6) Chaucer, Geoffrey, The Riverside Chaucer, gen. ed. Larry D. Benson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

The Pardoner is the obvious go-to place, but the Parliament of Fowls teaches nicely with Susan Schibanoff’s (brilliant) book and with the French tradition and is a bit more lesbian-ish. Lawrence Warner puts in a vote for the Nun’s Priest’s Tale (and see his article below).

7) Yde et Olive, ed. Mounawar Abbouchi, Medieval Feminist Forum. Subsidia Series no. 8. Medieval Texts in Translation 5. (2018).

I’ve not taught this specifically, though it’s come up in passing, and Diane Watt recommends it. Definitely lesbian-friendly. There’s an English version (see Watt’s article, below), in sixteenth-century print:

Lee, S. L., ed. The Boke of Duke Huon de Bordeux. Done into English by Sir John Bourchier, Lord Berners, and printed by Wynkyn de Worde about 1534 A.D. 3 Parts. Edited from the unique copy of the first edition. Early English Text Society. Original Series 40, 41, 43. London: N. Trübner, 1884; New York: Kraus Reprint, 1975, 1981.

Secondary Texts

Arthuriana 7.1 (1997) and 12.1 (2002) are special issues devoted to studies of the Roman de Silence.

Postmedieval Volumes 9.2 and 9.3 (2018) are special issues devoted, respectively, to the medieval intersex and to queer manuscripts.

Akbari, Suzanne Conklin, Idols in the East: European Representations of Islam and the Orient, 1100-1450 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009).

Allen-Goss, Lucy, ‘Transgressive Desire in Chaucer’s Legend of Thisbe,’ The Chaucer Review 53:2 (2018): 194-212.

– ‘Queerly Productive: Women and Collaboration in Cambridge, MS Ff.1.6,’ Postmedieval 9:3 (2018): 334-348.

Blud, Victoria The Unspeakable, Gender and Sexuality in Medieval Literature 1000-1400, Gender in the Middle Ages 12 (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2017).

Boyd, David Lorenzo, and Ruth Mazo Karras, ‘The Interrogation of a Male Transvestite Prostitute in Fourteenth-Century London,’ GLQ 1:4 (1995): 459-465.

Burger, Glenn, Chaucer’s Queer Nation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003).

Burger, Glenn, and Steven F. Kruger, Queering the Middle Ages (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001).

Burgwinkle, William, Sodomy, Masculinity and Law in Medieval Literature: France and England, 1050-1230 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Burns, E. Jane, Bodytalk: When Women Speak in Old French Literature (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993).

Bychowski, M. W., Howard Chiang, Jack Halberstam, Jacob Lau, Kathleen P. Long, Marcia Ochoa, and C. Riley Snorton, ‘“Trans* Historicities”: A Roundtable Discussion,’ Transgender Studies Quarterly 5: 4 (2018): 658-85.

Butler, Judith, Undoing Gender (New York and London: Routledge, 2004).

– Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex,’ 2nd edn (New York: Routledge, 2011).

Cadden, Joan, Nothing Natural is Shameful: Sodomy and Science in Late Medieval Europe (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013).

Clark, Robert L. A., ‘Jousting Without A Lance: The Condemnation of Female Homoeroticism in the Livre Des Manières,’ in Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women, eds Sautman and Sheingorn, pp. 143-77.

Dinshaw, Carolyn, ‘Eunuch Hermeneutics,’ English Literary History 55.1 (1988): 27-51.

– Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1989).

– Getting Medieval: Sexualities and Communities, Pre- and Postmodern (Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 1999).

– How Soon is Now? Medieval Texts, Amateur Readers, and the Queerness of Time (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012).

Fradenburg, Louise, and Carla Freccero, eds, with the assistance of Kathy Lavezzo, Premodern Sexualities (New York and London: Routledge, 1996).

Giffney, Noreen, and Myra J. Hird, eds., Queering the Non/Human (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008).

Giffney, Noreen, Michelle M. Sauer and Diane Watt (eds), The Lesbian Premodern, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

Gutt, Blake, ‘Transgender Genealogy in Tristan de Nanteuil,’ Exemplaria 30:2 (2018), 129-46.

Halberstam, Jack (Judith)*, Female Masculinity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998).

–  In A Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (New York: New York University Press, 2005).

Haraway, Donna, ‘A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,’ in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 149-81.

Heng, Geraldine, Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003).

Karras, Ruth Mazo, Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing unto others, 2nd edn (London and New York: Routledge, 2012).

Lochrie, Karma, Heterosyncrasies: Female Sexuality When Normal Wasn’t (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2005).

Lochrie, Karma, Peggy McCracken and James A. Schultz (eds), Constructing Medieval Sexuality (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1997).

McDonald, N. F., ‘Desire out of Order and Undo Your Door,’ Studies in the Age of Chaucer 34 (2012): 247-275.

Mills, Robert, Seeing Sodomy in the Middle Ages (Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

Murray, Jacqueline, ‘Twice Marginal and Twice Invisible’: Lesbians in the Middle Ages,’ in The Handbook of Medieval Sexuality, eds Vern L. Bullough and James A. Brundage (New York: Garland, 1996), pp. 191-222.

Neimanis, Astrida, Bodies of Water: Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology (London: Bloomsbury, 2016).

Puff, Helmut, ‘Female Sodomy: The Trial of Katherina Hetzeldofer (1477),’ Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 30. 1 (2000): 41-61.

Pugh, Tison, Sexuality and its Queer Discontents in Middle English Literature (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

Roberts, Anna Kłosowska, Queer Love in the Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

Rollo, David, Kiss My Relics: Hermaphroditic Fictions of the Middle Ages (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2011).

Sauer, Michelle M., ‘“Where are the Lesbians in Chaucer?”: Lack, Opportunity, & Female Homoeroticism in Medieval Studies Today,’The Journal of Lesbian Studies3/4 (2007): 331-45.

– Gender in Medieval Culture (London: Bloomsbury, 2015).

Sautman, Francesca Canadé, and Pamela Sheingorn, Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave, 2001).

Schibanoff, Susan, Chaucer’s Queer Poetics: Rereading the Dream Trio (Toronto, Buffalo, NY and London: University of Toronto Press, 2006).

Schultz, James A., ‘Heterosexuality as a Threat to Medieval Studies,’ Journal of the History of Sexuality 15: 1 (2006): 14-29.

Warner, Lawrence, ‘Woman is Man’s Babylon: Chaucer’s “Nembrot” and the Tyranny of Enclosure in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale,’ The Chaucer Review 32:1 (1997): 82-107.

Watt, Diane, ‘Read My Lips: Clipping and Kyssyng in the Early Sixteenth Century” in Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender , and Sexuality, eds. Anna Livia and Kira Hall (New York, Oxford University Press, 1997).

Amoral Gower: Language, Sex, and Politics (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2003).

– ‘Why men still aren’t enough,’ GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 3 (2010): 451-64.

Acknowledgement: I’ve drawn from reading lists compiled while teaching Texts, Contexts and Methods at Cambridge in 2016, from teaching Paper 3 (1300-1550) to undergraduates at Cambridge 2014-2017, and from a workshop session I prepared for doctoral candidates for the CHASE group of universities in 2019. I’ve also included material I’ve used with individual undergrads, and things I think are just interesting and worthwhile.

* I refer to Halberstam under Jack, with Judith in brackets, in accordance with this writer’s stated preferences concerning continued use of names.

2 thoughts on “A ‘Queer Medieval’ Reading List

  1. Hello! I’m currently a PhD candidate in Canada (in my 3rd year) and my subject is on the representations of atypical women and queer identities in the French Medieval litrature in the 12th and 13th centuries (the title isn’t exact and I’m writting in French but the idea is there).

    I wanted to thank you for this post. I already knew the majority of the texts but thanks to you I discovered others and it also conforted me in these choices. I have a supervisor specialized in the Medieval studies and another one on the gender and queers studies but they don’t really master the ‘queer medieval’ field so it was really nice to find your blog. I would have loved attending to one of your class.

    Thank you!

    • Hello! That’s so nice of you to say. Your research sounds fascinating! Hope we cross paths at a conference before long.

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