Beyond Debate: Gender in Play in Old French Courtly Fiction

  • Roberta L. Krueger
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

Many courtly fictions, thought of as a site for articulating and promulgating normative gender roles, also debated, and sometimes (temporarily) destabilized, gender identities. Just at a time when formal debates about women circulated in Latin and Old French, a number of courtly texts questioned the nexus of gender, language, and power. Marie de France’s Guigemar, the chantefable Aucassin et Nicolette, and Heldris de Cornualle’s Roman de Silence serve as illustration.

Keywords

Burning Europe Posit Hunt Triad 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    On medieval notions of sexual difference, see Joan Cadden, Meanings of Sex Differences in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).Google Scholar
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  18. 25.
    On Marie’s stance as female author, see Michelle Freeman, “Marie de France’s Poetics of Silence: The Implications for a Feminine Translatio,” PMLA 99 (1984): 860–83; on Marie’s affirmation of woman’s moral authority in other work, see Sahar Amar, “Marie de France Rewrites Genesis: The Image of Woman in Marie de France’s FablesNeophilologus 81. 4 (1997): 489–99; and for a view on the gender of the author as expressly problematized, see Miranda Griffin, “Gender and Authority in the Medieval French Lai,” Forum for Modern Language Studies 35, 1 (1999): 42–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 26.
    Rupert Pickens, “Poétique et sexualité chez Marie de France,” in Et c’est la fin pour quoi sommes ensemble: hommage à Jean Dufournet: Littérature, histoire et langue du Moyen Age (Paris: Champion, 1993), p. 1129.Google Scholar
  20. 28.
    Aucassin et Nicolette, ed. Jean Dufournet (Paris: Garnier-Flammarion), 1984, p. 84.Google Scholar
  21. 30.
    The passage is a pastiche of the formal courtly portrait analyzed by Alice M. Colby [Colby-Hall], The Portrait in Twelfth-Century French: An Example of the Stylistic Originality of Chrétien de Troyes (Geneva: Droz, 1965).Google Scholar
  22. 31.
    Nathaniel B. Smith notes the physicality of Nicolette’s representation as an aspect of her “uncourtliness,” which makes of her an “anti-heroine,” in “The Uncourtliness of Nicolette,” Voices of Conscience: Essays on Medieval and Modern French Literature in Memory of James D. Powell and Rosemary Hodgins, ed. Raymond J. Cormier (Philadelphia, Pa.: Temple University Press, 1977), pp. 169–82.Google Scholar
  23. 32.
    Critics who note the remarkable activities of the heroine include Smith, “The Uncourtliness of Nicolette”; Eugene Vance, “Aucassin et Nicolette as a Medieval Comedy of Signification and Exchange,” in The Nature of Medieval Narrative, ed. Minnette Grunmann-Gaudet and Robin F. Jones (Lexington, Ky.: French Forum, 1980), pp. 57–76; and Kevin Brownlee, “Discourse as Prouesces in Aucassin et Nicolette,” Yale French Studies 70 (1986): 167–92.Google Scholar
  24. 33.
    The long-held notion that Aucassin et Nicolette is a parody has been refuted by Tony Hunt; “La Parodie Médiévale: Le Cas d’Aucassin et Nicolette,” Romania 100 (1979): 321–81. For an overview of the critical debate, see Rudy S. Spraycar, “Genre and Convention in Aucassin et NicoletteRomanic Review 76 (1985): 94–115. For Spraycar, the text’s “dominant mocking character” directs itself against “the abstract notion of conventionality out of all measure” (115).Google Scholar
  25. 34.
    In addition to Vance, Brownlee, and Spraycar, see R. Howard Bloch, “Money, Metaphor, and the Mediation of Social Difference in Old French Romance,” Symposium 35 (1981): 18–33; more recently, Jane Gilbert, “The Practice of Gender in Aucassin et NicoletteForum for Modern Language Studies 33.3 (1997): 217–28; and the excellent article by Maria Rosa Menocal, “Signs of the Times: Self, Other and History in Aucassin et NicoletteRomanic Review 80.4 (1989): 497–511.Google Scholar
  26. 37.
    Among the many studies that discuss the romance’s textual ambiguities, its complex representation of sexuality, and its problematization of gender, we are particularly indebted to Michèle Perret, “Travesties et transsexuellles: Ydes, Silence, Grisandole, Blanchandine,” op. cit.; Peter Allen, “The Ambiguity of Silence: Gender, Writing, and Le Roman de Silence,” in Signs, Sentence, Discourse: Language in Medieval Thought and Literature, ed. Julian N. Wasserman and Lois Roney (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1989), pp. 98–112; and Simon Gaunt, “The Significance of Silence,” Paragraph 13.2 (1990): 202–16. For an astute reading of the romance’s representation of gender in the light of Butler’s theory of performance, see Peggy McCracken, “‘The Boy Who Was a Girl’: Reading Gender in the Roman de Silence,” Romanic Review 85.4 (1994): 517–36.Google Scholar
  27. 39.
    Le Roman de Silence: A Thirteenth-Century Arthurian Verse-Romance by Heldris de Cornualle, ed. Lewis Thorpe (Cambridge: Heffer, 1972). An English translation (with facing-page edition) is Silence: A Thirteenth-Century French Romance, ed. and trans. Sarah Roche Mahdi. Medieval Texts and Studies 10 (East Lansing, Mich., 1992). See also Heldris de Cornualle, Le Roman de Silence, trans. Regina Psaki (New York: Garland, 1991). All translations within this article are my own.Google Scholar
  28. 40.
    See R. Howard Bloch, “Silence and Holes: The Roman de Silence and the Art of the Trouvère,” Yale French Studies 10 (1986): 81–99. On the way that Heldris has feminized the portrayal of Nature, see Suzanne Conkin Akbari, “Nature’s Forge Recast in the Roman de Silence,” in Literary Aspects of Courtly Culture; Selected Papers from the Seventh Triennial Congress of the International Courtly Literature Society, ed. Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1994), pp. 39–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 42.
    See Sharon Kinoshita, “Heldris de Cornuälle’s Roman de Silence and the Feudal Politics of Lineage,” PMLA 110 (1995): 397–409.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Thelma S. Fenster and Clare A. Lees 2002

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  • Roberta L. Krueger

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