(related: “about the blog”)


Marginal detail is marginal


Dr Juliet Ó Brien is a medievalist in Vancouver, Canada. She also tweets @obrienatrix .*

Her main job is university undergraduate teaching: French language, literature, and culture. Her reading and/or research interests have tended towards the medieval and medievalist for all of her conscious life, through four historical strands:

1970s onwards: medieval and post-medieval speculative fictions; including earlier dream-vision and satirical poetry, romance, and allegory. Her first encounters were with irrealist imaginative writings: poetry, fairy tales, myth, stories and histories, fantasy, and science fiction.

1996 onwards: medieval French and Occitan poetry.

2000 onwards: connections between medieval and later textualities (including rewriting and refashioning, versions and variants, verse to prose, continuations, translation) and hypertextuality.

2004 onwards: “literature writ large”: the nature of literature and literariness, and the purpose of reading and its practice in interactive communities.

2012 onwards: inter-weaving these strands above into …


(1) the integration of teaching and research in/as learning:

  • translatio: translation, comparative literature, and cultural studies
  • cultural literacy and literary culture
  • interactive collaborative transformative knowledge adventuring and making a.k.a.—as contrasted with teacher- or student-centred learning—knowledge-centred learning and learning-centred learning

(2) teaching literature and reading:

  • using multiple and mixed (including digital) technologies in teaching, learning, reading and other literary activities, and research
  • reading, reception, and refashioning
  • commentary and criticism

(3) practical applications and theoretical implications:

  • how teaching literature helps to think about literature itself, in its broad sense and broader context: for example, teaching language in a “culturally enriched” way, through and with literature and other creative arts, as integral parts of a whole rich biodiverse living environment
  • pre- and post-modern textualities and hypertextualities
  • translatio in broader and expanding senses:
    translocation, transposition, transience, transgression, transformations, and trans- identities;
    feminism, gynarchism, and queerings;
    hybridity, crafty ingenuity, creative marginality, and queeryings;
    migrancy, cosmopolitanism, and tolerance

She is long-winded and her favourite quotation is:

“Never lose touch with silly.”
—Humphrey Lyttelton

Working in the teaching stream (currently renamed “Educational Leadership”) of UBC full-time faculty, she is a Top 10 Vertex, Ranked By Betweenness Centrality.

She has previously spent time in Ireland, the USA, and the UK; prior to all these, she grew up in Belgium, where she was weaned on Belgian (and other) medieval/ish things like bande dessinée / comix, cinema, Proper Books, and chocolate (which, alas, is not a medieval thing in that small corner of the world).



Full-time unit of value-adding productivity.



Rights and responsibilities for this site’s content reside with me; the following institutions have no association with my actions, words, and thoughts. They do, however, deserve mention for paying me to do a day-job. For which I am grateful, and without which—and the associated intellectual stimulus of colleagues, students, access to a library and other resources, and scholarly life in general—this blog would not exist.

  • 2009-present: Department of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
  • 2008-09: School of Languages and Literatures, University College Dublin
  • 2007-: Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Trinity College Dublin
  • 2000-06, having started webbing in 2003 and blogging in 2004: Department of French and Italian, Princeton University
  • 1991-2000: thanks are due to the Universities of Cambridge and Manchester for providing computer accounts and facilities. Such things were a Godsend back in the pre-personal-laptop-and-other-mobile-computing days when dinosaurs roamed the earth eating geeks unless they were safely inside everything-proof university computer labs.

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Here are some courses I’ve designed and taught or currently teach; including syllabus and readings, notes, guides, and so on. There’s more at COURSE MATERIALS ONLINE; open access, shareable under a Creative Commons BY-CC-NY copyleft licence.


  • beginners’ French (+ course coordination & TA training):
    FREN 101 (old)
    FREN 102 (old)
    FREN 101 & 102 (2018- )
  • intermediate French:
    FREN 111 & 112
  • contemporary French language and literature (post-Year 12 / traditional “first-year university French”; in French):
    FREN 122 & 123
  • French conversation / oral practice for non-native speakers (in French):
    FREN 215
  • introduction to literature in French and to textual analysis (in French):
    FREN 220 (up to the 17th c.)
    FREN 221 (18th c. onwards)
  • The Francophone world in images – la bande dessinée (in French):
    FREN 336
  • French culture and civilization I (from the dawn of human time to 1875; in French):
    FREN 333
  • medieval literature and culture (taught in English):
    RMST 221 (2019), (2011), (2010), (2009)
    MDVL 302
    MDVL 301A
    MDVL 310D




Research and development, invention and innovation, reading and writing.

  • = most of the posts here on Meta-meta-medieval, this being where I do most of my writing
  • three sample old posts along these lines, in the interests of historical amusement (from 2008, preserved for posterity as self-flagellating vanitas):
    Reading in progress: medieval and other current cultural “likes”
    Research in progress: current interests and topics
    Writings in progress: things doing, nearly done, and done
  • posts asking questions: may be ignorant or innocent, may be ironic;
    in the spirit of critical enquiry and Humanist scepticism, following the example of Montaigne’s que scay-je?
  • posts asking if questions are open questions, and posts asking open questions;
  • de tranquillitate: posts of flânerie (and sometimes ânerie);
    posting in a state of Stoic otium, in a Petrarchan one, always with Montaigne’s oisiveté in mind, and aiming towards vacate et videte

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  • A carbon-based life-form, alive (to the best of her knowledge), sentient (possibly even animate, depending on the definition), a primate, human, feminist, and cisfemale.
  • Of the “both-and” rather than “either/or” persuasion; from an “either/or” point of view, an irritating impossible incongruity or a mongrel monster.
  • Culturally European (in the post-war utopian European Union transnational sense) and Belgian, incorporating other north-west (mainly) European elements. Became somewhat Americanised in an old-fashioned Liberal Arts way. Began questioning and problematising and complicating that after moving to Canada and learning more about decolonisation.
  • Genetically and in terms of family background, she is mostly Scottish (mainly east coast, Fife, Glasgow belt, some points west and north) and Irish (mainly of the Northern persuasion, some points west); from a mouvance-continuum of Dál Riata human transience and of more recent and larger migrations forced by colonialist Anglo Modernity.
  • The end result is anti-nationalist, internationalist, transnational, cosmopolitan, multicultural, and multilingual. Answers to a number of different names, from “Juliette Haut-Briand” to “Iúilín Ní Bhriain” (with middle names that work in every Indo-European language) and responding from old habit to most two- or three-syllable feminine first names starting with [d͡ʒ], [ʒ], or [ʎ]. She never really belongs fully in any single place, but will fit in contentedly in many; she is happiest in irrealist alternate worlds.
  • Such complications produced a long-winded windbag who is over-fond of parentheses and footnotes.
  • Also facetious, frivolous, and flippant.

The Obrienatrix feels some obligation to explain herself.
She absolutely adores puns; especially bad ones; and the more the merrier; but also nifty coinages, beauteous gems of derivative ingenuity. Such as trobairitz (Roman de Flamenca, l. 4577).

She also likes: footnotes; grammar and punctuation; beheading fowls; looking beseechingly heavenwards whilst trying hard not to relapse into her worst inclinations towards puerility, sarcasm, and other lower forms of wit; and explaining things. Often overexplaining. For things that don’t need explaining. Including jokes. She gathers this Foul Overkill is due to being Scottish. She is aware that some of this might be silly and that’s all right.

Style icons: Cayce Pollard and Sarah Silverman; tho’ aspiring to the giddy heights of Emma Peel and Tilda Swinton.

Assorted other matters of taste and/or questionable judgement may be found in Obrienaternal reading in progress; insofar as she is capable of identifying herself, that self-identification is very much bound up with her readings and with reading itself. She has orthodox conservative tastes and her Top 100 favourite non-Francophone SF writers are: Iain M. Banks, Laird Barron, Elizabeth Bear, Octavia E. Butler, Pat Cadigan, Angela Carter, Susan Cooper, Neil Gaiman, Alan Garner, William Gibson, Elizabeth Hand, Russell Hoban, Tove Jansson, N. K. Jemisin, Gwyneth Jones, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Stephen King, Ursula K. Le Guin, Thomas Ligotti, Kelly Link, Liu Cixin, China Miéville, Nnedi Okorafor, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Neal Stephenson, Charles Stross, Tanith Lee, Jeff VanderMeer. With 23 ⅔ extra points to each of Butler, Le Guin, and Pratchett.

The author bears no resemblance to any depictions on this page, bar a passing likeness to the photo above.

She is NOT this person (perchance the same one responsible for this), nor that one either (and this of hers); nor this one here, and not the one born in 1861 either, or another one from St John’s, Newfoundland (currently only seems to exist on Facebook: maybe a new William Gibson character that’s come to virtual life?). Vampires are so passé. Zombies may have been having their moment. But Doppelgängern, we’re everywhere. We multiply online. We create complication. And yes, we do aim to confuse.

On the self-portrait as a passport-snapshot or caricature, rather than the “profile” as it is so often labelled online: see the post “on Facebook“. Being of a dyspeptic healthy sceptical disposition, she’s a little wary about many of the attributes to which some vague socially-constructed notions suggest that one Ought To Aspire (OK, other than the excellent “cultured, creative, curious, dream, kindness, fascinated, help others [to] love learning, amazed, love and resistance”); the abovementioned monstrosity seems to interfere and resist.
[I’m sorry, that came out way more Freudian than intended.]

[EDIT: The Obrienatrix stopped referring to herself in the third person some years after most of the above was first written. She remains resolutely long-winded. She hopes to succeed one day in living happily ever after; or at least not dying a martyr after living in interesting times. This is why she is deeply suspicious of “belief” and “passion” and worries about anyone who Brand Identifies themselves as “passionate.” They should be made to learn Latin, do some medievalism, discover philology, and take a good hard unblinkered look at the big bad scary neomedievalist neoconservative world around them; thus to learn the error of their ways and help to make that world a better place.]

(purported author portrait)
(not of this present one here)
Marie de France,
Lais: Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal ms. fr 3142 f. 256 r°.

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