English Language and Literature ETDs


Marisa Sikes

Publication Date



Conduct and courtesy literature have a long history, its vernacular tradition extending back to the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. We are familiar with modern versions of this literature: Ann Landers advice column, women's magazines, and even modern books that tell us about etiquette. My dissertation examines English and French conduct literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries addressed to women. These texts build rhetorical authority in various ways. At one end of the spectrum of rhetorical authority there are texts that build credibility through charismatic and familial authority; on the other end there are those that build it through abstract means such as the use of allegory and visionary inspiration. I locate these different approaches in relationship to other medieval literary traditions such as the recording of visions, the generation of mental images as a means of mnemonic practice and meditation, the debate on women, and the use of exempla, a prominent rhetorical feature of pastoral medieval sermons. My initial chapters explain my theoretical approach and examine conduct literature written by women for women. Christine de Pizan's Book of the Three Virtues reveals that medieval pedagogies directed at women are not always concrete and experiential for her text engages in visionary practice, employs allegory, and self-reflective debate. Anne of France's Lessons for Her Daughter relies on more familiar constructions of authority but is also part of a family tradition of royal instruction directed at children. In my fourth chapter I analyze the English translations of The Book of the Knight of La Tour Landry which were produced between 1422 and 1471 and in 1484. This male-authored text adopts a familiar, familial language of concern, but The Book also reflects the rhetoric of pastoral sermons as well as violent misogyny. My fifth chapter considers the anonymous, short Middle English poems narrated by a 'Good Wife' along with a Middle Scots and an Anglo-Norman poem. These texts reveal the strictures on middle class female behavior and rely on concrete, specific details of physical objects and exempla; the Good Wife narrator presents herself as the mother of her audience, engaging the familial and charismatic aspects of rhetorical authority. The Anglo-Norman poem provides evidence that authority does not always reside within the mother figure in didactic literature, however, as the daughter in this poem speaks back to her mother. My final chapter considers how, despite the violence present in the Knight's work, it and the works of Christine and Anne promote gynosocial relationships as a means of survival in medieval courtly society for women. My study questions modern assumptions about medieval understandings of gender and sexuality concerning medieval pedagogies. My work also historicizes the neuroscience debate over differences between the sexes in which Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender participates by examining the pedagogical approaches directed at medieval women.'

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Damico, Helen

Second Committee Member

Graham, Timothy

Third Committee Member

McLoughlin, Nancy




Conduct of life -- Women -- Early works to 1800 -- History and criticism, Women in literature -- History -- to 1500, Literature, Medieval -- History and criticism, Christine, de Pisan, ca. 1364-ca. 1431 -- Criticism and interpretation, Anne, of France, 1461-1522 -- Criticism and interpretation, La Tour Landry, Geoffroy de, -- 14th cent. -- Livre du chevalier de La Tour Landry pour l'enseignement de ses filles -- Criticism and interpretation

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