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Karen Winstead

I am a specialist in the Middle Ages with keen interests in gender and sexuality and in film and popular culture.  I’ve published several books on the popular medieval genre of hagiography, from Virgin Martyrs (Cornell, 1997) to, most recently, Fifteenth-Century Lives: Writing Sainthood in England (Notre Dame, 2020), and I wrote the Volume I of the Oxford History of Life-Writing, on medieval life-writing. I haven’t decided what my next book will deal with, but the poetics of ambiguation that governs Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur is a lively candidate.  As a teacher and a scholar, I strive to show how our narratives about the past shape on our narratives about the present and, in turn, shape how we imagine the future.  In recent and forthcoming essays, I have examined the intersection of literary criticism and fiction in what I call “critical fictions,” and I have investigated contemporary appropriations of medieval narratives.  The fantastic fascinates me, and I enjoy teaching and writing about narratives that inhabit the twilight zone between reality and unreality—Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for example.  I am also intrigued by “rogue adaptations,” films that intentionally subvert their literary sources through systems of allusion, inversion and distortion. 

Selected Recent Essays:

  • “George R. R. Martin and the Virgin Martyr: Misogyno-feminism and the (Ab)uses of the Past,” Studies in Medievalism 31 (2021): 187-201.
  • “Mrs. Harker and Dr. Van Helsing: Dracula, Fin de Siècle Feminisms, and the New Wo/Man,” Philological Quarterly 99.3 (2020): 315-36.
  • “Exhuming the Living Dead: The Anchoresses of Chris Newby and Robyn Cadwallader,” Studies in Medievalism 29 (2019): 77-103.
  • “Medieval Life Writing and the Strange Case of Margery Kempe of Lynn (ca. 1373-ca. 1440).”  In On Life Writing, ed. Zachary Leader.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.  142-60.