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Vernacular Literatures in the Middle Ages: Uses and Abuses, by Jocelyn Wogan-Browne

Wednesday, October 30, 2019, 5:30 pm

Medieval literature can be challengingly different from what we currently classify and receive as literature. It has nevertheless sometimes been too readily assimilated to our own paradigms, whether in the application of the very term ‘literature’; the appropriation of stereotyped versions of medieval narratives and their protagonists into white supremacist ideology; or seen via post-medieval geo-political configurations (such as the nation state) in which ‘vernacular’ becomes confused with ‘demotic’, or seen in simplistic contrast to the perceived hegemony of ecclesiastical, academic and historiographical medieval Latin writings. But vernacular literature is of course much more complex and rewarding than its abuses suggest. It exists in intricate and overlapping relations with medieval socio-political and linguistic power, yet offers distinctive worlds of experience and knowledge. For anyone used to the fixed form and identicality of text in the printed book, the medieval culture of audition, orality, and manuscript production offers new paradigms for literature and reading: for anyone studying the Middle Ages, vernacular texts and experiences are of indispensable importance.

Jocelyn Wogan-Browne held the Thomas F.X and Theresa Mullarkey Chair in Literature at Fordham University, New York from 2010-2019, and was previously Professor of Medieval Literature in the University of York, UK.  She is a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America and, with the help of residences at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study and CEU’s own Institute for Advanced Study and other research awards, has published on medieval women, saints’ lives, vernacularity and medieval literary theory, with a particular speciality in the francophone literature of medieval England.  Educated at Melbourne and Oxford Universities, she has taught in Australia, the UK, Europe and the United States.   She is currently co-editing the High Medieval Literatures volume of the  Oxford University Press  Series, Twenty-First Century Approaches to Literature, and working on her monograph on Women and Multilingualism in Late Medieval England.