Intimate Politics: The Poetics of Social Engagement during the Hundred Years War

Geer, Rachel, French - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
McGrady, Deborah, Department of French Language and Literatures, University of Virginia

This project demonstrates that late medieval affective reading practices are an important tool for understanding the social aims of vernacular literature during the Hundred Years War period. Writers such as Guillaume de Machaut, Jean Gerson, and Christine de Pizan crafted imaginative representations of contemporary history and the body politic that elicited readers’ affective engagement. In doing so, these writers invited readers into a more personal experience of the social and political upheaval of late medieval France. The first chapter centers on a theory of affective reading that takes shape in a number of works by the influential 15th-century theologian and chancellor of the University of Paris, Jean Gerson. In reflections addressed to both the university trained and the laity, Gerson demonstrates that affective experiences usually associated with devotional practice are in fact the result of a set of textual strategies. These include “clothing” one’s own experiences and histories in those proffered by texts, transforming the words of others into personal scripts, and cultivating attentiveness to the rhetorical meaning of words. For Gerson, affective reading is both a personal experience and a mode of being in the world that performs important social functions. His theoretical reflections provide a crucial framework for the vernacular literary examples explored in subsequent chapters. Collectively, the chapters examine how these authors drew on devotional themes and literary techniques to cultivate readers’ sense of personal implication in the public life of late medieval France. Going a step further, this study argues that as readers applied affective reading experiences to literary representations of contemporary France and the Hundred Years War, they learned to view reading as a form of social engagement.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Late Medieval French Literature, Christine de Pizan, Jean Gerson, Guillaume de Machaut, Hundred Years War, History of Emotions, Affect, Rhetoric, Political Writing, Devotion
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