Discerning Anonymity: Characterizing Female Voice in Middle English Literature

Summer 2017

Sarah Barnett : English

Donor: Anselm Fund
Mentor: Jennifer Miller

There is no doubt that finding a professed author in our surviving Middle English texts is both incredibly valuable and extremely difficult. An author, no matter his or her intentions, often cannot help but bring a rich array of individual complexities into their work. However, when an overwhelming majority of the surviving Middle English poetry we have today is expressly author-less, authorial intention becomes an aspect we can only speculate on without any real confidence. Without a name, the basis for determining many aspects of authorial voice has tended to fall rather problematically on a poem’s content, and just how far we can extrapolate poetic content as indicative of individual character and authorial presence remains an unanswered question. My research seeks to come to stronger conclusions about such issues, largely focusing on how we can and should determine the poetic female voice, especially in cases of anonymous works where no female presence is obvious. By analyzing both works known to be authored by women and those that are anonymous but have often been attributed women authorship by modern scholars, I hope to more comprehensively identify what tools are available for determining such unspoken aspects of authorial voice, and just how far we can utilize them to access what is explicitly absent.

I would like to thank the Anselm Fund for the generous support they have given me this summer. Their donation has given me both the incredible opportunity to pursue a research project outside of the classroom setting, and the chance to further explore my interests in my academic field. The experience I have had with SURF has been invaluable for my development as an academic, and the skills I have gained this summer will serve me well in my thesis to follow. Without the generosity of the Anselm Fund, this learning experience would not have been possible, and I sincerely thank them for all of their support.