About the project

Over the last three decades, medieval women's writing has become a significant focus of scholarly research. This project looks at the importance of considering women's engagement with literature in understanding the established canon.

Women's literary culture has been defined broadly to include women’s roles as patrons, readers and subjects of texts and the influence of continental European women writers in Britain has been charted.

Simultaneously, considerable research has been undertaken into the work of Chaucer, his predecessors, contemporaries, and successors. Chaucer’s working practices, his relationship with his scribes, patrons, and audiences have all been subject to close and necessary scrutiny, as has the European context of Chaucer's work. 

Yet, while there have been numerous informative studies of women or gender in the work of Chaucer and his contemporaries, to a significant extent, these two major areas of research into women's writing and Chaucerian literature have existed in parallel. The established canon of medieval English literature has remained fundamentally unchallenged by the emergence of scholarship on medieval women’s writing. 

By bringing together a group of international scholars who work on both canonical medieval writers and on women’s literary culture in England and Europe, this network will demonstrate the importance of considering women's engagement with literature in understanding the established canon. It will explore whether Chaucer and other male authors have more in common with women’s literary culture than has previously been assumed.

Project aims

The project aims to address the following questions:

  • What evidence is there to support the premise that Chaucer and his male contemporaries were influenced by women’s literary activities
  • Is there any overlap between the traditions in which Chaucer and his contemporaries position their work and those in which the medieval women writers position themselves
  • Are literary genres handled differently in male - and female - authored texts? If so, why and to what effect? What aspects of the texts remain constant and why
  • Is there any evidence that the gender of a patron has a significant impact on the genre or content of the text produced
  • What can we discover about the reception and transmission of works by women, and by communities of female readers of the work of Chaucer and his male contemporaries? Does this provide us with new insights into Chaucer’s audiences?