Kalamazoo 2011
Generational Difference and Masculinity
(2 sessions)
I. Fathers and Sons in the Early Middle Ages;
II. Fathers and Sons in the Later Middle Ages

Session 1
Chair: Wendy Hoofnaegle, Northern Iowa University

Paul Kershaw, “Louis the Pious, Attila the Hun, and the Problem of Filial Honour”

Mary Dockray Miller, “Glory and Bastards: Godwin, Tostig, Skuli, and Ketel”

Allen J. Frantzen, “Masculinity, Fatherhood, and Sons in Anglo-Saxon England”

Session 2
Chair: Stephen J. Harris, University of Massachusetts Darcy Jacobsen, “The King’s Son: Illegitimacy and Identity in the Life of Geoffrey Plantagenet”

Mark Owen, “The Paternity of Jesus: Fathers of Flesh and Fathers of Spirit in the York Cycle”

Rachel Moss, “‘Mi ryght wel-belouved fadyr’: The Language of the Father-Son Relationship in Late Medieval England”


Gender-based scholarship on medieval topics continues to be overwhelmingly focused on women rather than men. The Congress program for 2010, for example, lists 20 session titles using the word "female," 5 using the word "male," 4 using the term "masculine/-ity (one of them about female masculinity), 1 using the term "feminine," 14 using "men" and nearly 60 using "women" (rough counts, but revealing). In much of this work, male and female are seen oppositionally; when conflicts between the sexes are discussed, the topic frequently concerns eroticism, queering, and various forms of the historiography of homosexual ties. These categories leave important areas unexplored. The sessions I propose will depart from these established patterns in two ways. First, it will focus on masculinity, which functions as an unexamined given in much gender scholarship; second, it will integrate intergenerational relations into the discussion by exploring relations between fathers and sons.

The paradigmatic father-son relationship is that of Abraham and Isaac, an episode represented in numerous medieval forms ranging from the visual arts to exegesis and drama. Standing behind this relationship is the relationship of Abraham to God. The standard reading is that the paradigm explores kinds and degrees of obedience; because Isaac serves as a type of Christ, the episode is understood as a prefiguration of the Passion. But Abraham and Isaac are not the only or even the oldest father-son pairing in scripture, and medieval explorations of fathers and sons were hardly confined to this example. In the Towneley mystery plays, for example, Herod is given three sons; Nativity plays (and numerous other representations of the birth of Christ, of course) manifest anxiety about the status of Joseph as a father and Jesus as a son. Even narratives and other forms based on Scripture interrogated a wide range of father-son ties, and (needless to say) medieval inquiries into fatherhood and/or sonship were not limited to examples found in the Bible.

Once the issue of obedience is decentered, father-son relationships can be seen as a framework for explorations of many vital questions of medieval family life, including such aspects of labor as the education of boys and young men in craftwork outside the guild system; education in the home involving knights and squires, or the gentry and their sons (see, for example, in Chaucer's knight and his son, or the Franklin and his son); legal questions of inheritance; and others. There are also affilial relationships that acquire filial overtones in monastic contexts--for example, the relationship between an abbot and his "son," the monk. Many behavioral traits not raised in scriptural examples, including competition between fathers and sons and Oedipal desire, are also evident in early and late medieval history, literary texts, and iconography.

The session will appeal to medievalists working in various disciplines on the family, gender, masculinity, labor, law, education, and other topics. Father-son relationships unavoidably raise questions of masculinity in which one party poses a standard the other must try to achieve; not every father is an example to his son, however, and the generational advantage of age does not establish the higher standard in every case.

You are welcome to send a proposal for a 20-minute paper.

Summer 2010:
Suggested fiction about fathers and sons for our group

We will read Akedah: The Binding of Isaac, the story of Abraham and Isaac as found in Genesis, and one medieval play (with translation notes) about this episode. Possibilities for reading to follow include:

Sebastian Barry, A Long Long Way. Penguin. Perhaps the best novel I've read about World War I, set partly in Dublin and partly at the Western Front.

William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying. Knopf; Reissue edition (January 1991). Considered quirky by many (there are several different narrators and hence no consistent point of view), this is a story about a poor farming family in Mississippi in the 1920s. Many sons, one bad father.

Edith Wharton, A Son at the Front. Northern Illinois U Press. The father as intellectual and artist; also with a focus on World War I, but set in Paris and embedded in the richness of the novel of manners.

Chaim Potok, The Chosen. Fawcett, 1987. Growing up Jewish in the Bronx in the 1950s, vs. growing up Orthodox in the Bronx in the 1950s. A novel with a strong focus on Hebrew traditions of fathers and sons.

Cormac McCarthy, The Road. Vintage, 2006. Some time in the future, let's hope, no doubt the grimmest novel about a father and son ever written.

June 25, 2010