Current Book & Research Projects

Monograph: Negotiating Violence at the Feast in Medieval British Texts

Much of the literature of medieval Britain is anchored in the idea that prescribed rules of behavior are the key to developing a stable community. From the warrior-codes and hall rituals of the Anglo-Saxon comitatus to the chivalric and courtly conduct codes of the later medieval period, there is the sense that once everyone knows and agrees to abide by the same codes of behavior, preserving the stability of the community simply entails the continued enforcement of those rules. My work exposes some of the heretofore-unconsidered limitations of medieval chivalric and conduct codes by considering how the violent altercations at or following literary feasts occur not in spite of the codes that prescribe correct behavior in the hall, but because those codes are ineffectual governing tools for spaces in which the jurisdiction of one rule relaxes the authority of another.

Unlike the legibly antagonistic interactions at jousts, tournaments, and battles, feasts are events at which everyone appears to be of like mind. However, this is a façade wrought through the following of artificial rules of etiquette which do nothing to quell the various conflicts between individuals, groups, and families; while the chivalric code clearly identifies combat-related modes of antagonism and how they should be redressed, the conduct codes governing proper behavior in the hall are concerned primarily with immediate behavior at the table and offer no broader set of instructions by which a feast may be both an ordered event and also an opportunity for the purging of latent violence. Therefore, violent disruptions at the feast cut through the artificially-created harmony of the feasters, exposing and expelling otherwise unexamined conflicts. Because it is unexpected and exists beyond any governing code, this is a more authentic form of violence than its battlefield counterpart. Such moments of feasting violence provide points of intervention wherein the codes governing correct behavior are shown to be inadequate, compelling individuals to negotiate the underlying issues—such as the inability of marriage bonds to forge lasting peace and the tensions between individual and communal honor—that threaten to destabilize and destroy the community.

This project comprises case studies that group texts thematically, making use of ideas gleaned from postcolonial, ecocritical, gender, and hospitality studies and drawing from historical documents including chronicles, legal codes, and conduct manuals to historicize my readings. This multidisciplinary approach permits a culturally-informed contextualization of the violence at the feast, challenging the misconception that violence is a one-size-fits-all theme in medieval literature by demonstrating how it is presented in ways that highlight the particular anxieties of the community in which and for which a given text was produced.


Monograph: Violence at the Arthurian Feast

Whereas violence at the feast in medieval British feasts more generally deals with the vacuum between codes of governance that is created in the feasting hall, providing the author with an opportunity to critique any of a variety of socio-cultural and legal issues in a fictional society that might or might not be traceable to the writer and community by whom and for whom a given text was produced, violence at the Arthurian feast is typically used in a far more intentionally thematic fashion, tied specifically to questions of loyalty (in earlier Arthurian narratives) and treason (in later Arthurian texts). This monograph, a subject-specific companion to the other, explores and analyzes that shift from a focus on loyalty to one on treason by noting its development and focus in the Arthurian feast hall. Focal texts include Lanval/Sir Laundevale/Sir Launfal; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; and Guinevere’s feast in the Death of Arthur tradition.

Edited Collection: Melusine’s Footprint: Tracing the Legacy of a Medieval Myth

(with Misty Urban and Deva Fall Kemmis, co-editors)

In Melusine’s Footprint: Tracing the Legacy of a Medieval Myth editors Misty Urban, Deva Kemmis, and Melissa Ridley Elmes bring together an international group of scholars writing on the subject of the fairy figure of Melusine. Commonly studied from the vantage point of either the French, German, or English literary tradition, here Melusine receives a broader consideration that takes into account as well her Dutch, Belgian, Spanish, and Chinese counterparts, and her roots in Classical and folk natural philosophy, folkloric, and myth traditions.

Treated through the disciplinary lenses of Art History, History, Archaeology, Alchemy, Literature, Culture, Medievalism, and critical lenses including feminism and monster studies, with this volume scholarship on Melusine is brought into the twenty-first century through nineteen fresh critical studies that reveal both her figural dimensionality and a dynamic, international and atemporal cultural resonance.

(Contracted and In Production) Brill’s Explorations in Medieval Culture series.

Edited Collection: Food and Feasting in Premodern Outlaw Tales

(with Kristin Bovaird-Abbo, co-editor)

CFP: We seek papers to round out an exciting collection of essays on the subject of “food and feast in premodern outlaw tales.” Although we are happy to consider abstracts on Middle English outlaws, we are especially interested in work that considers topics related to food and/or feasting in the following areas: pre-Conquest English, medieval Scandinavian, medieval continental, or early modern outlaws in history, literature, and/or culture. We welcome essays from any discipline. Please send an author bio and abstract for a 6,000-8,000 word essay to Melissa Ridley Elmes at by August 1, 2017. Completed essay drafts will be due in December 2017/January 2018.

Currently in the initial stages of development, this volume will serve as a companion to the Food and Feast in Modern Outlaw Tales being edited by Alex Kaufman and Penny Vlagopoulos.


Ongoing Research

In addition to my book projects, I am currently researching in the following subjects:

–Female friendship in medieval British literature

–Chaucer’s representation of birds in the Canterbury Tales (a follow-up to my 2012 essay on Parliament of Fowls)

–Weather and landscapes in medieval dream visions