Parental and Filial Obligation in Late Medieval Literature

Kara M Stone, Fordham University


The bond between parent and child in late medieval England was deeply felt and often conflicted as demonstrated by the literature of the period. This project presents new readings on parental and filial relationships in late medieval literature, including specific chapters dedicated to medieval works such as, Sir Gowther, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale, Awntyrs off Arthure at the Terne Wathelyne, The Trental of St. Gregory, and “Pearl” from The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript. In this dissertation, I argue against Philippe Aries’ famous claim that medieval childhood did not exist. I use his groundbreaking work as a starting point for my discussion to explore the clearly defined bounds between late medieval childhood and adulthood from both an historical and literary perspective. Specifically, I focus on the shifting relationships surrounding inheritability, otherworldly visitations, obligation and suffering, and moments of instruction between parent and child. The four main categories explored in this dissertation are the effect of the mother on the child and her role as educator; the father’s role as the figure of authority and the child’s need for his recognition in order to progress in society; the child’s role within the domestic sphere and particularly how the child transitions into adulthood; finally, the extended relationships between the living and the dead in the late medieval domestic sphere. Within these four categories, this work explores the often-complicated relationships between parent and child throughout different situations and viewpoints. Specifically, this dissertation tries to address the often overlooked importance of both the mother and the father in shaping the child’s experience in and of the world, in addition to addressing, how the child takes what he or she learns from the parents and how the parents’ pasts affect the child’s ability to transition successfully into society.

Subject Area

Medieval literature|Literature

Recommended Citation

Stone, Kara M, "Parental and Filial Obligation in Late Medieval Literature" (2016). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10125243.