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Maiden Shamefastness: Emotionality and Gender in Middle English Literature

Date: Monday 2 September 2013
Time: 6.00-7.30pm
Venue: Graduate Seminar Room 2, Old Arts Building, The University of Melbourne.
Presenter: Dr Mary Flannery (University of Lausanne).

All welcome.  If you would like to join us for dinner afterwards, please email sjtrigg@unimelb.edu.au.

A burning blush, a wave of self-loathing, a powerful urge to cringe - all of these are recognizable symptoms of shame.  Shame overlaps with and inspires a host of responses and emotions, from anger and annoyance to fear and frustration.  This was as much the case in the Middle Ages as it is today; indeed, one scholar has suggested that 'we might even call shame the primal medieval emotion, so ubiquitous and various are its implications'.  However, expectations regarding who ought to be susceptible to shame, and to what extent, depended upon a variety of factors, chief among them being gender.  This paper introduces my ongoing research on the relationship between shame and gender in Middle English literature, focusing particularly on the concept of shamefastness (most simply understood to refer to modesty).  The importance of shamefastness lies, I will argue, in its ability to shed light both on our understanding of medieval emotionality and on the performance and expectations of gender in medieval England.

Biographical Note:
Dr Mary Flannery is a scholar of medieval literature and cultural history.  A maître assistante (lecturer) at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, she is particularly interested in the history of emotion and in fame, gossip, and deviant speech in late-medieval literature and culture (c. 1300-1500). Her first book, John Lydgate and the Poetics of Fame (Boydell & Brewer, 2012), identifies the subject of fame as key to understanding the poetics of fifteenth-century England’s most important author, arguing that Lydgate conceived of the poet as someone in a unique position to aid his patrons not only by responding to the political pressures of fame, but by generating good fame for his employers and, ultimately, for himself.

Mary was educated at Claremont McKenna College and at the University of Cambridge.  While a graduate student at Cambridge, she co-founded the Medieval Reading Group (MRG) and designed, developed, and co-founded Marginalia, the MRG’s online journal, both of which were supported by funds from an Arts and Humanities Research Council Collaborative Research Training Grant.  After completing her MPhil and PhD in medieval English literature, she was awarded a curatorial graduate internship in the Manuscripts Department of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where she assisted in planning loan exhibitions, editing publications, and researching and monitoring the museum’s manuscripts collection.  She joined the Department of English at Queen Mary, University of London in 2008, and in August 2012 took up her current post at the University of Lausanne.

Currently, Mary is researching shame and emotionality in medieval literature and culture. Between August and October 2013, she will take up an Early Career Research Fellowship at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotion.

Other research interests include gender studies, medieval manuscript culture, and the history of reading. In 2009 she co-curated a Getty exhibition entitled ‘Temptation and Salvation: The Psalms of King David’.  Funded by the QMUL School of English and Drama and the Westfield Trust, she co-edited a collection of essays with Katie Walter  of the University of Sussex, entitled The Culture of Inquisition in Medieval England (D.S. Brewer, 2013).