Sexual Culture in the Literature of Medieval Britain

Amanda Hopkins, , Cory James Rushton, Editors

Boydell & Brewer


It is often said that the past is a foreign country where they do things differently, and perhaps no type of “doing” is more fascinating than sexual desires and behaviours. Our modern view of medieval sexuality is characterised by a polarising dichotomy between the swooning love-struck knights and ladies of romance on one hand, and the darkly imagined and misogyny of an unenlightened “medieval” sexuality on the other. British medieval sexual culture also exhibits such dualities through the influential paradigms of sinner or saint, virgin or whore, and protector or defiler of women. However, such sexual identities are rarely coherent or stable, and it is in the grey areas, the interstices between normative modes of sexuality, that we find the most compelling instances of erotic frisson and sexual expression.

This collection of essays brings together a wide-ranging discussion of the sexual possibilities and fantasies of medieval Britain as they manifest themselves in the literature of the period. Taking as their matter texts and authors as diverse as Chaucer, Gower, Dunbar, Malory, alchemical treatises, and romances, the contributions reveal a surprising variety of attitudes, strategies and sexual subject positions.

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About the Editors

Robert Rouse

I joined the Department of English at the University of British Columbia in 2005 after studying and teaching in the United Kingdom. My own research has been primarily concerned with medieval romance (both Arthurian and non-Arthurian), writing on issues of historiography (in particular post-conquest perceptions of the Anglo-Saxon Past), English national identity, saracens and other medieval others, the law, the medieval erotic, the medieval geographical imagination, and ecocritical approaches to premodern texts. I have published three books and numerous articles on medieval literature and culture, details of which can be found on my publication and research pages. I am currently completing a book on the Medieval Geographical Imagination, in addition to being one of the General Editors (with Siân Echard) of the Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of British Medieval Literature (forthcoming in 2017).

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Amanda Hopkins is a medievalist teaching in the University of Warwick. Cory James Rushton is Associate Professor in the Department of English, at St Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia.