“Willed Women”: Studying Medieval Literature at OSU

An image of the second nun from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

When asked to trace her love of literature to its origins, Emily McLemore returns to her babyhood. “My dad started reading to me from the day I was born, so my love of reading started early,” she says. Last month, Emily defended her Master of Arts thesis, “Willed Women: Female Bodies & Subversive Being in the Knight’s and Second Nun’s Tales.”

Her path to studying medieval literature began as an undergraduate at Western State Colorado University. Before attending WSCU, she worked a series of jobs but always knew that she wanted to return to college and become a teacher. Emily studied English, with an added emphasis in Secondary Education, but when she began student teaching in an eighth grade classroom, she quickly realized it wasn’t for her. She had read Beowulf in one of her undergraduate courses, and that experience helped her recall what she loves about literature and textual analysis: learning to illuminate the complexities of a narrative to understand its meanings and cultural connections.

Emily McLemore

She applied to one graduate school program—the MA in Literature and Culture at Oregon State—and was admitted with a position as a Graduate Teaching Associate. Once at Oregon State, she met with Professor Tara Williams, who recommended that she read the Second Nun’s Tale, one of the lesser-known Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. Emily began to consider how women, gender, and sexuality studies might be a lens through which to read this tale. Along with another Canterbury Tale, the Knight’s Tale, she formed an argument around how the women in these texts employ their bodies and their sexuality to confront and subvert patriarchal power structures. Her thesis tackles these two tales and their “willful women,” a subject that she presented on last month at the International Congress on Medieval Studies. Emily will continue to study these works and other medieval texts this fall as she begins a PhD in English at the University of Notre Dame.

The Ellesmere Chaucer, a 15th century manuscript of the Canterbury Tales.

To learn more about Emily’s research and her path to graduate school, tune in to hear our conversation on Sunday, June 11th at 7:00 pm on 88.7 FM KBVR Corvallis or listen live online.

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