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Fatherhood and its Representations in Middle English Texts

Fatherhood and its Representations in Middle English Texts

Rachel E. Moss
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Fatherhood and its Representations in Middle English Texts
    Book Description:

    Late medieval English society placed great weight on the practices of primogeniture, patrilineal descent, and patriarchal government, and the significance of the father had cultural resonance beyond the rule of law. Yet despite a burgeoning interest in both the family and gender, "the father" has to date received little attention from medievalists. This book takes an interdisciplinary approach to the analysis of the "fictions" of fatherhood, the ideological constructs that underpinned late medieval conceptions of fathers and patriarchy. Its focus on gentry and mercantile readers and writers also offers new insights into the literary culture of late medieval England by considering how texts were produced and received within gentry and bourgeois communities, and demonstrates the ability of texts to not only reflect but also shape hegemonic norms and cultural anxieties. Through close examination of late medieval letters and romances, It shows how the father was the dominant figure not only of medieval domestic life, but also of the medieval imagination. Dr Rachel Moss is Lecturer in Medieval History, Faculty of History, University of Oxford.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-165-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction: Fictions of Fatherhood
    (pp. 1-15)

    In late 1463, Margaret Paston, wife of the Norfolk lawyer John Paston, had just made a visit to Norwich to buy provisions for the winter: but an emotional cold front had already arrived. Her eldest son, the recently knighted Sir John Paston, had without her knowledge left the family estate at Caister. In a letter of 15 November she informed Sir John that his father thought she had assented to his departure, and this had caused some marital discord. ‘I hope he wolle be your gode fader hereafter, yf ye demene you welle’, she wrote, though she expected that it...

  6. Chapter 1 Situating Fathers: The Cultural Context
    (pp. 16-39)

    This is a book about the textual representation of fatherhood that takes place in the specific milieu of late medieval England, and so before discussing fathers we need to understand that social and cultural context. During a time of social transformation, England has been described as changing from ‘a country of knights … [to] a nation of shopkeepers’.² This rather damning statement about the death of chivalry obscures the dynamic developments in the society of what has come to be known as ‘the long fifteenth century’. Beginning with the deposition of Richard II and closing with the beginning of the...

  7. Chapter 2 Becoming a Father, Becoming a Man
    (pp. 40-71)

    In May 1482, a harried Richard Cely junior wrote to his younger brother George about a sexual misadventure. Three months earlier he had had sexual relations with their servant Em, who was now with child. Richard may have been the elder brother of the two, but George seems to have been better versed in romantic and sexual matters: he had both a mistress and a bastard child. The letter collection makes it clear that George and Richard were close, and Richard evidently expected fraternal solidarity and advice. Impending fatherhood in this instance became a nexus of issues related to young...

  8. Chapter 3 Fathers and Sons
    (pp. 72-111)

    In Chapter 2 we saw some of the ways in which men became fathers and how the process of fatherhood had a definitive effect on male identity. With the father–son relationship, we see the convergence of many kinds of masculinities. This brings to the fore many of the central features of manhood, and helps explicate several important questions regarding issues of mutuality, duty and familial power dynamics. The father–son relationship, it becomes clear, is an uneasy yet vital relationship in terms of family and social structuring. Fathers need heirs – specifically male heirs – in order to establish...

  9. Chapter 4 Fathers and Daughters
    (pp. 112-151)

    For all the excellent work that has been done in recent years illuminating the lives of young medieval women, scholarship has been remarkably silent on the relationship between fathers and their adult daughters. Partly this is simply because of the already outlined paucity of work on fathers in general, and partly this is because of the intellectual and political frameworks within which analysis of young women has taken place. Unsurprisingly, much of this work has been within the field of women’s studies, and examining the relationships between medieval women has been a way of reclaiming women’s history from patriarchal narratives....

  10. Chapter 5 False Fathers?
    (pp. 152-183)

    Under common law, a bastard was nullius filius, the son of no man.² The grammarian John of Genoa, meanwhile, explained the Latin origin of the word stepfather thus:

    Just as an object seen through glass (vitreus) is falsified or altered from reality, so a stepfather (vitricus) seems to be what he is not; he is a pater falsus, a vitreus custos

    In one scenario, the law had vanished the father. In another, the stepfather was a distorting mirror that hid the true father behind a lie. So far in this book I have mostly written about fathers to legitimate, biological...

  11. Conclusion: Beyond Fatherhood
    (pp. 184-190)

    Late medieval English society placed great weight on the practices of primogeniture, patrilineal descent and patriarchal government. The language of political and social life was saturated with the language of fatherhood, whilst laws on inheritance privileged the father–son relationship. In purely legal terms, the identity of one’s father was imperative, whilst becoming a father was vital to ensure the continuity of patrilineal systems. Having legitimate offspring, particularly sons, was essential to ensure a family’s continuance. Intertwined with these economic and political realities were the ideological constructions of fatherhood along with the domestic situating of actual and literary fathers. One...

  12. Appendix I: Gentry and Merchant Families
    (pp. 191-194)
  13. Appendix II: Romance Summaries
    (pp. 195-205)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 206-221)
  15. Index
    (pp. 222-230)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-231)