Chaucer for 8-year-old's bedtime story begins fascination with medieval women
By Melissa J. Bloyer
Privee and apert, and most entendeth ay
To do the gentil dedes that he can,
And tak him for the grettest gentil man.
Most people would look at this verse with confusion. It looks like English, and yet, could anyone possibly understand it?
Dr. Nancy B. Dr. Warren, expert on medieval literature and assistant professor at Utah State University, knows exactly what it means.
The verse is from one of the Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer. Listening to these stories as an 8-year-old child opened Dr. Warren's eyes to medieval literature. Her father, a professor of history and a Presbyterian minister, and her mother, an English teacher, would read these stories to her in her Tennessee home.
Find who is always the most virtuous,
Privately and publicly, and who always tries hardest
To do what noble deeds he can,
And consider him the greatest nobleman.
Translated into our understanding of the English language, the verse makes much more sense. But if you read the first verse out loud, you may hear the rhythm and rhyme; you may understand the attraction to medieval literature.
Dr. Nancy Warren started her education at Vanderbilt University and graduated in 1991 with a bachelor's degree in English and French. She went on to get her master's degree in English at Indiana University.
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Dr. Warren achieved her doctorate in English at Indiana University in 1997.
During this time Dr. Warren received many awards and honors. She was awarded several scholarships and grants for her studies. In 1991, at Vanderbilt University she received the French Government Prize and the Gardiner Award for Highest Academic Achievement in French. At Indiana University she received the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences Dissertation Year Fellowship, and The Newberry Library Ecole des Chartes Fellowship, which she declined, to take a position as a visiting assistant professor of English at the University of Michigan.
Teaching English appealed to Dr. Warren more than teaching French because you can teach a wider variety of subjects without the language barrier. When you take a French class you learn more about conjugating verbs that about the French culture. In the English department there is a broader selection of subjects besides grammar.
Her travels brought her to Utah State University seven months ago.
She found Logan and Cache Valley different from her native Tennessee and the Midwest. She enjoys hiking around the valley and finds the temperature and humidity level agreeable. She said that even if the temperature is high it does not feel as hot because there is almost no humidity.
Dr. Phebe Jensen, assistant professor in USU's English department, was on the hiring committee that hired Dr. Warren.
"She is an outstanding scholar of medieval literature and culture," said Dr. Jensen.
She noted that Dr. Warren possesses many quality characteristics like being a great teacher, challenging, well organized, and caring.
Dr. Warren says she likes the "nice-sized" English department. The number of professors and the class sizes are not too big or small.
Rosanne Radclif is a student in one of Dr. Warren's classes. She says the class is challenging but important.
"It is interesting to learn about what went on during medieval times. Before I took this class all I heard about were the men who lived in those times," Radclif said.
"It is nice to show the students that there were actually women in medieval times, and that they were actually doing something," Dr. Warren said.
The course "explores the lives of medieval women in a variety of cultures," according the course syllabus. The syllabus states that the class will frequently return to the question of what it means for a woman to read and write in these medieval cultures.
"It is sometimes hard for us to understand the things that we study in the class," says Radclif, "a lot of the facts are unclear and make sense only if you can accept medieval culture."
"Fact is not always the most important issue," Dr. Warren states to her class, who is trying to understand why women did the things they did.
"Dr. Warren makes the subject, which is sometimes hard to accept, easier to learn about because she has a really good understanding of the subject," says Ratclif.
Dr. Christine Hult, associate head of the English department and professor, said Dr. Warren is the first person hired for the U.S.U. English department who specializes in medieval literature. In addition to that, Dr. Warren also is an expert in beginnings of English literature, the history of the English language, and an expert in many other languages including old English. Dr. Hult also mentioned Dr. Warren has written a book that has recently been accepted by the Pennsylvania Press.
Dr. Warren said the title of the forthcoming book would be something like Brides of Christ in the Marketplace: Female monasticism and the Economics of Identity in Later-Medieval England.
Dr. Warren is no stranger to publication. She has been published in the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies and Romance Languages Annual. She says what she likes best about her research is she has to go to Europe to do it.
She says it is amazing how old some of the documents are in Europe as opposed to here in the United States.
"Here we think something from the 1600s is old; over there I will be holding a document that is over 600 years old," says Dr. Warren.
The importance of Dr. Warren's research becomes apparent when you look how far women have come since the medieval times but realize there are important lessons to be learned from the women of old. They were not around simply for procreation, but had a distinct place in the different medieval societies. Dr. Warren is bringing their achievements and lives into the light so that everyone, male and female alike, can learn and understand more about the women of yesterday and today.
"From a past that has made history tremble I have retained only words," Elie Wiesle, The Fifth Stone.