Our next MEMSA seminar will be taken by Jess Allen, talking about ‘Forgotten Voices: Reconstructing Female Friendships in Renaissance France’. 18:00, Tuesday 14 February. We chatted to Jess below!
Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from?
I’m from Tonbridge, a small town in Kent where there isn’t much to do or see other than a relatively small Norman castle. I lived there until I went up to Oxford to study French and German, spending my third year and most of my vacations in France, Germany, and Luxembourg. I developed a love of early modern French literature during my first year and haven’t looked back.
What brought you to Durham?
After I finished my undergraduate studies, I really wanted to go to a different university for my Master’s so that I could experience a new environment and a new set of people. I decided on Durham because there is such a high concentration of medievalists and early modernists, the city is beautiful, and there are lots of interesting opportunities and activities to explore.
What is your favourite thing about the medieval/early modern period?
I love the way that pretty much all of the issues we discuss today, from gender to education and from war to politics, were present and being discussed during the early modern period too. Reading French literature from the period provides you with a window into that society as well as with new ways to think about your own; it seems to me that the texts I read, even though they were published about five hundred years ago, are highly relevant to our current political situation.
What does your research focus on?
At the moment, I’m working on my MA thesis which is about women and friendship in early modern French literature. I’m looking at Madeleine des Roches and her daughter Catherine who had a salon in Poitiers alongside Montaigne’s adopted daughter Marie de Gournay, analysing how they write about gender and friendship in their works. I’m still working out my precise approach to the topic, but I’m interested in how they thought about these concepts themselves and how we might use this to approach their works.
What do you plan to focus on in your seminar?
I’m going to be talking about what I’ve thought about so far and where I might be going next. Not many people know a lot about these writers, so I really enjoy introducing people to them and their work.
If you were not in academia, what would you be doing?
I love travelling and I’ve often wondered what it’s like to be a flight attendant, so maybe I would be doing that. If I didn’t manage to get a job with my favourite airline, Lufthansa, I would probably be teaching English somewhere seeing as I love teaching, languages, and exploring new places.
Do you have a favourite medieval/early modern text?
That’s a really hard question. The text that got me really interested in the Renaissance was Montaigne’s Des Cannibales so I’ll say that, because without that, I wouldn’t be here today.