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Reaching Readers: Textual Engagement and Personalized Learning in the Works of Christine de Pizan and Geoffrey Chaucer


This dissertation takes a critical look at the theories of readerly engagement and literary pedagogy that Christine de Pizan and Geoffrey Chaucer articulate throughout their bodies of work, examining the ways in which they utilize these theories to develop practical strategies for cultivating readerly engagement and personalized learning in diverse new audiences of vernacular readers. The later Middle Ages in England and France bore witness to a striking expansion of vernacular literacy, as advances in education and book production made written materials more accessible beyond the clerical classes. This spread of literacy to a growing group of lay readers meant that late-medieval writers were compelled to grapple with diverse new audiences, containing individuals of varied social classes, genders, and educational backgrounds. I argue that de Pizan and Chaucer used their writing to open up educational opportunities for these audiences. Recognizing that these new readers, despite their access to the written word, still faced social, cognitive, and emotional barriers to their ability to learn from literary works, these writers sought to facilitate practices of engaged reading and break down these didactic barriers.

In the first half of my dissertation, I explore de Pizan’s depiction of readerly identification, arguing that she presents the experience of identifying with a literary figure as a profound facilitator of personalized learning. Having established the pedagogical benefits of identification, I move to analyzing how de Pizan encourages identification in her female readers in order to teach them practical lessons in reading and in life. In the second half of this dissertation, I examine the ways in which Geoffrey Chaucer models problematic reading strategies in order to encourage a diverse body of readers to overcome their proclivities for interpretative self-sabotage. I conclude by exploring how Chaucer offers the experience of wonder as an alternative reading methodology.

A number of recent studies have focused on medieval writers’ responses to an expanding vernacular readership, emphasizing writers’ attempts to manage readers’ interpretative authority. My own work shifts the focus from authority to access, expanding opportunities to theorize late-medieval strategies of literary-educational inclusion.

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