The Middle Ages had a complex attitude to women. Eve was responsible for the Fall of Man, and theologians warned against the temptation offered by female beauty and wiles; the Virgin Mary and female saints were the only safe objects of devotion. But the eleventh and twelfth centuries saw the rise of troubadour poetry celebrating the joys and pains of love, and of chivalric romance in which ‘ennobling’ love inspires knights to great deeds. Many medieval texts written by men today seem to us misogynist, but Chaucer was described by a near-contemporary as “always women’s friend”; and at the time he was writing, a striking defence of women was offered by the remarkable Christine de Pizan in her City of Ladies.

Elizabeth Archibald was Professor of English Studies at Durham from 2012 until her retirement in August 2021. Before that she held posts at King’s College, Cambridge, the University of Victoria (Canada), and Bristol University. She specializes in medieval romance and the classical tradition in the Middle Ages, with a particular interest in the Arthurian legend. She is co-editor of the journal Arthurian Literature, and a past President of the British Branch of the International Arthurian Society. Her current research project is an interdisciplinary study of bathing in medieval literature and society. Elizabeth has published monographs on Apollonius of Tyre: Medieval and Renaissance Variations (1991), and Incest and the Medieval Imagination (2001), and has co-edited A Companion to Malory with A.S.G. Edwards (1996), and The Cambridge Companion to the Arthurian Legend co-edited with Ad Putter (2009). Her many essays and chapters range over classical and medieval themes and texts, including Chaucer, Malory, and Scottish literature.

Your host for this event will be the writer Edward Parnell, author of Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country. Edward Parnell lives in Norfolk and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. He is the recipient of an Escalator Award from the National Centre for Writing and a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. Ghostland (William Collins, 2019), a work of narrative non-fiction, is a moving exploration of what has haunted our writers and artists – as well as the author’s own haunted past; it was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley 2020 prize, an award given to a literary autobiography of excellence. Edward’s first novel The Listeners (2014), won the Rethink New Novels Prize. For further info see:

Image: The Garden Of Eden With The Fall Of Man by Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel de Oude (1615): Mauritshaus, The Hague. Photo by Ben Sutherland. See Creative Commons license.