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November 1, 2002

Making Medieval Women Visible: Ruth Dean Lecture Set for November 7

The influence of what scholar Michael D. C. Drout has called J. R. R. Tolkien's "masculinist medievalism" will be the starting point for a lecture focusing on texts for and by women in early medieval English and Anglo-Norman French to be given by Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, professor of medieval literature at Fordham University. Her talk, titled "J. R. R. Tolkien, Anglo-Norman, and the Occlusion of Women's French Literary History in England," is set for Thursday, November 7, at 8 pm in the Willits-Hallowell Center's Morrison Room and is sponsored by the French department as part of the Ruth Dean lecture series. A reception will follow.

"Jocelyn is a lively and productive scholar in a field that is increasingly central to understanding both French and English medieval literature," said Carolyn Collette, Professor of English Language and Literature on the Alumnae Foundation. Collette refers to studies of the Anglo-Norman era, the period after the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066 when French was a major language of culture, law, administration, and other areas of medieval England.

Wogan-Browne's work in this era includes research on women in medieval Britain and on texts for and by women in early medieval English and Anglo-Norman French. Her many publications and edited collections include Medieval English Prose for Women: Ancrene Wisse and the Katherine Group (1990),Virgin Lives and Holy Deaths: Two Exemplary Biographies for Anglo-Norman Women (1996), Voicing Medieval Women (1996), The Idea of the Vernacular (1999), Medieval Women: Texts and Contexts in Late Medieval Britain (2000), and Saints' Lives and Women's Literary Culture, c.1150–c.1300: Virginity and Its Authorizations (2001).

To start her lecture at MHC, Wogan-Browne will explore the ideological position of Tolkien, an influential Oxford don and eminent medievalist who in his literary criticism, as well as in his own fantasy literature, marginalized the influence of women and the importance of Anglo-Norman culture in Britain. Wogan-Browne notes that Tolkien "loathed" the Normans, and did not consider the role of women in literary production of importance either in the numerous French texts of the thirteenth century or in the early medieval English texts of that century that he edited and studied. Says Wogan-Browne, "Tolkien's particular linguistic interests in early English, Norse, and Celtic languages were part of a vision of British national history that excluded French influence completely and sought to establish an unbroken tradition of 'Englishness' before and after the Norman conquest. The agenda for literary study of the English Middle Ages set by Tolkien and his colleagues thus consciously or unconsciously occluded some four hundred years of the French literary history of women in medieval England." Following her discussion of Tolkien, Wogan-Browne will focus on exactly what he ignored, women's roles in and contributions to the literature of the Anglo-Norman period.

The Ruth Dean lecture series was established in 1967 upon the retirement of Ruth Dean, MHC Professor Emeritus of French and a specialist in the study of Anglo-Norman literature and culture. The lecture fund has supported visits by outstanding medievalists such as Roberta L. Krueger, Leonard C. Ferguson Professor of French at Hamilton College, and Ian Short, professor at University of London's Birkbeck College and president of the Anglo-Norman Text Society. Short was editor for Dean's Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (Anglo-Norman Text Society 2000), which was awarded the Prix Honor Chave by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, the second oldest of the five academies of the Institut de France. This year marks Ruth Dean's one-hundredth birthday and the thirty-fifth year of the Ruth Dean lecture series.

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