Name: Amelia Pillifant
This week the Quest took a step back in time to the Middle Ages with English major Amelia Pillifant (she/her). Pillifant is tracing the development of the King Arthur legend in the context of female infidelity. More specifically, she is taking a close look at the treatment of Guinevere as a consequence of her relationship with Lancelot.
Pillifant outlines the evolution of the story in her thesis, emphasizing that in earlier 12th century romances the infidelity of Guinevere is fairly ambiguous in the outcome. However, in later versions, Guinevere’s relationship with Lancelot becomes one of the ultimate reasons for the downfall of Camelot. The essence of Pillifant’s argument is that the different treatment of her infidelity is a feature of changing narrative structure in the Middle Ages. She argues that the change results from the incorporation of Arthurian legend into larger religious messaging about moral authority.
Pillifant is fascinated with the complex symbolism to be found in stories like that of King Arthur. Characters’ choices often don’t make sense to the modern reader because they are steeped in several layers of symbolism. Pillifant’s thesis was largely born out of an interest in this symbolism.
Pillifant became interested in Guinevere and Lancelot more specifically through the development and narrowing of her thesis but was originally interested in medieval literature’s portrayal of female infidelity at large. In her exploration of the position of women in medieval literature, she found that the story of Guinevere and Lancelot was the clearest example of her point. From there, she narrowed her thesis to just versions of their story in France and England (mostly France). This contraction of her scope allowed her to go into more detail than she previously could.
Several classes and professors helped shape Pillifant’s thesis. Professor Ann Delehanty’s French Culture in the Middle Ages course helped plant the seed of interest in old French romantic literature. Professor Michael Faletra was a resource for Pillifant to bounce ideas off of. Professor Simone Waller, Pillifant’s thesis advisor, helped develop the crux of her thesis and shape it into a cohesive argument.
As for the future, Pillifant is hoping to spend the next few years in Europe. She is currently waiting on a response from a French teaching program but is excited about post-grad life regardless of her admissions outcomes. She is considering graduate school but is uninterested in returning to academia directly post-Reed. However, she is certain that her passion for medieval literature will stay with her.