"Holy and Unholy Roadtrips in Middle English Romance" at the International Medieval Congress, Kalamazoo 2015 (May 14-17)

full name / name of organization: 
International Medieval Congress (Society for the Development of Middle English Scholars)

"Holy and Unholy Roadtrips in Middle English Romance"

In Middle English romances, knights-errant traverse varied and perilous geographies on journeys that are often as moral, spiritual and experiential as they are physical. Some romances feature purposefully foreign or otherworldly landscapes, but others present quite familiar ones. This panel will consider the explicit and implicit functions of the physical and metaphorical journeys that drive Middle English romances.

As the recent publication of the Encyclopedia of Medieval Pilgrimage suggests, there is a renewed interest in the importance of spiritual journeys in medieval literature. Pilgrimages frame a variety of Middle English narratives, including the Canterbury Tales and the various versions of the Grail Quest. Moreover, periods of wandering, often through woodlands (as in the cases of Lancelot and Sir Amadeus), characterize penitential romances. Journeys are just as central to more secular texts, and understanding the nature of geography within romance illuminates a wide range of issues. The geographies of romances are hardly as fixed as their real-world counterparts. Instead, they are amorphous, shifting to suit the poetic and symbolic purposes of their creators. The city of Carlisle provides an example of how a space can transform in different texts: in the alliterative Morte Arthure, Carlisle is a center of political and martial decision-making. However, in "Gawain and the Carl of Carlisle," the city becomes a threatening and otherworldly outpost on the margins of Arthur's kingdom.

Panelists might consider the productive tensions between spatial realities and individual interiority in a range of Middle English romances. Possible directions include encounters with wondrous landscapes and monstrous creatures that exist outside the geographic centers of power, the poetics of landscape, and the correspondence (or lack thereof) between imagined and "real" geographies. Panelists might also consider how spiritual journeys are alternately frustrated and facilitated by physical journeys. They might also discuss why certain landscapes are conducive (or not) to penitence and prayer, or how relics and other religious objects travel through and sometimes even transform various spaces.

Proposals of between 250 and 300 words should be submitted to David Clark at david.eugene.clark@gmail.com before September 15.

Our panel title is derived from a course taught by Eve Salisbury and Grace Tiffany at Western Michigan University.