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Junior Research Seminar: The Real Housewives of Malvern Hills: Domesticity and Medieval English Literature

ENGL 200.306
instructor(s):
TR 10:15-11:45am
fulfills requirements:
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 3: Early Literature to 1660 of the Standard Major

Long before the modern-day Real Housewives series aired and broadcast an array of stereotypes of wealthy housewives, medieval texts were putting forth similar characterizations of housewives across classes in their day. From drama to poetry to etiquette books, literature of this period frequently casts the figure of the housewife in ways resonant with contemporary depictions in popular culture—gossiping, frivolous, materialistic, neglectful of her household duties, and domineering. Among the many housewives we find in medieval literature, there’s a plowman’s wife who doesn’t have her husband’s dinner ready when he returns from the field, much to his chagrin (“Ballad of a Tyrannical Husband”); wives who beat their husbands with distaffs (plays including the Towneley Play of Noah); and young women who are learning to avoid gossip and taverns, among other things (etiquette literature including “How the Goode Wife Taught Her Daughter”). In reading such texts, we will consider how different genres construct the figure of the housewife vis-à-vis work and class. To what kinds of work do these texts assign value, and how is this value tied to social class? What do their characterizations of women suggest about the nature of household work and about women’s roles across classes?

Through engagement with primary and secondary readings, this Junior Research Seminar will foster students’ development of literary analysis and critical research skills. Possible assignments include close-reading exercises and an annotated bibliography that help students build up to a final research project (either a 10-15 page critical research paper or a creative research assignment).