Spring 2021 - ENGL 404W D100

Topics in Medieval Literature (4)

Class Number: 7998

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu, Th 2:30 PM – 4:20 PM

  • Instructor:

    Matthew Hussey
    Office Hours: Office hours by appointment over Zoom: email and we will set up a time.
  • Prerequisites:

    ENGL 304 or 306 strongly recommended. Reserved for English honours, major, joint major and minor students.



Advanced study of specific aspects of Medieval literature. May be defined by author, genre, or critical approach. Students with credit for ENGL 404 may not take this course for further credit. Writing.


Medieval British Women's Literature

Conventional wisdom is that women in the Middle Ages were silenced and marginalized by an overwhelmingly misogynist and Christian patriarchal culture. True enough (though as we will find, not always and not in the ways we might expect). Despite this, from the years 700 up through 1500, an amazing range of texts—both poetry and prose—survives written by women; and other texts were commissioned by or written for women. These texts can give insight into the profound ways that gender, love, politics, faith, and literacy could shape, constrain, or enable women’s lives, thought, and work. Moreover, these letters, romances, devotionals, lyrics, and autobiographies are also astoundingly rich: laments on exile, stories of werewolves, explorations of erotic love, reflections on ecstatic visions, tales of fairy magic, and the cries of the undead become critical moments of resistance or renewal, while we as readers and scholars can discover historical insights through careful reading.  

In this course, we will read medieval British women’s literature, beginning with Latin letters by Anglo-Saxon nuns all the way up through the Welsh religious and sexual lyrics of Gwerful Mechain. A few of these texts were authored by men, but were written for a woman patron or audience. These authors came from diverse backgrounds in British society: from the French queen’s own circle to an English middle class merchant. Medieval Britain was multilingual, and works will be from Latin, Old English, Welsh, Old Norse, Middle English, and Anglo-Norman or Old French. All will be presented in translation, though we will look at the originals, especially the Old and Middle English. Our primary approaches to the texts will be literary and historical, but with special attention on gender, sex, and the body as critical concepts, especially as they intersects with language, ethnic, religious, and sexual identities. As this is a writing course, we will plan, develop, research, write and present a major project over the course of the term, based on a topic of student’s choice. This course is an excellent opportunity to explore in depth the literature and culture of medieval Britain with a keen focus on women’s lives and writings.

Because we are doing this during the Covid-19 pandemic, the course will be taught over remote platforms like Zoom, Blackboard, and Canvas. Right now the health and safety of students, faculty and staff and all of our immediate friends and family takes precedence. I completely wish that we could be together; there is no substitute for the improvisational, empathetic, and intellectually bracing interplay of presence: listening, speaking, debating, creating. However, I will do everything I can to make this interesting, engaging, and exciting. A 400-level seminar is meant to be a focused and in-depth experience; for that reason, each week, I will post two short (20-30 minute) introductory or framing lectures--these will be asynchronous, so you can take them in whenever works best for you. We will also use our established time-slots to have two synchronous sessions a week (an hour or so). In these synchronous sessions, we will discuss, query, exchange ideas, think, and collaborate to get to know and understand these medieval women authors and readers.


To build a scholarly community around these texts.
To read closely, understand deeply, write clearly.
To contextualize these works by and for medieval women in their historical moment and our literary history.
To recognize the acts of resistance, claims on authority, and insights into knowing and being in this literature.


  • Argument Summary 05%
  • Passage Analysis 10%
  • Weekly Responses 20%
  • Scholary Research Presentation 15%
  • Final Research Project (includes proposal, draft, and revision) 35%
  • Presence, preparedness, and active engagement in synchronous sessions 15%



The books for the course can be ordered online, or from local bookshops, and there will be copies ordered to the SFU Bookstore. The first collection of texts (Huber and Robertson's Katherine Group) is available online for free, so I am not ordering it. The Broadview book can be purchased in cheaper pdf format from the publisher directly, if you don't mind reading online, and it looks like the Oxford World Classics have digital options through the bookstore. The others are knocking around used in a lot of places, if you are look. Some supplemental reading will be distributed via Canvas.


Huber and Robertson, The Katherine Group MS Bodley 34 (TEAMS, 2016)
ISBN: 978-1580442480

Burgess and Busby, The Lais of Marie de France (Penguin, 1986)
ISBN: 978-0140447590

Windeatt, Julian of Norwich Revelations of Divine Love (Oxford World Classics, 2015)
ISBN: 978-0199641185

Bale, The Book of Margery Kempe (Oxford World Classics, 2015)
ISBN: 978-0199686643

Gramich, The Works of Gwerful Mechain (Broadview, 2018)
ISBN: 978-1554814145

Kibler, Chretien de Troyes Arthurian Romances (Penguin, 1991)
ISBN: 978-0140445213

Department Undergraduate Notes:

IMPORTANT NOTE Re 300 and 400 level courses: 75% of spaces in 300 level English courses, and 100% of spaces in 400 level English courses, are reserved for declared English Major, Minor, Extended Minor, Joint Major, and Honours students only, until open enrollment begins.

For all On-Campus Courses, please note the following:
- To receive credit for the course, students must complete all requirements.
- Tutorials/Seminars WILL be held the first week of classes.
- When choosing your schedule, remember to check "Show lab/tutorial sections" to see all Lecture/Seminar/Tutorial times required.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in spring 2021 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).