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Marie de France: A Critical Companion

Marie de France: A Critical Companion

Series: Gallica
Volume: 24
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 242
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  • Book Info
    Marie de France: A Critical Companion
    Book Description:

    Marie de France is the author of some of the most influential and important works to survive from the middle ages; arguably best-known for her Lais, she also translated Aesop's Fables (the Ysopë), and wrote the Espurgatoire seint Patriz (St Patrick's Purgatory), based on a Latin text. The aim of this Companion is both to provide information on what can be gleaned of her life, and on her poetry, and to rethink standard questions of interpretation, through topics with special relevance to medieval literature and culture. The variety of perspectives used highlights both the unity of Marie's oeuvre and the distinctiveness of the individual texts. After situating her writings in their Anglo-Norman political, linguistic, and literary context, this volume considers her treatment of questions of literary composition in relation to the circulation, transmission, and interpretation of her works. Her social and historical engagements are illuminated by the prominence of feudal vocabulary, while her representation of movement across different geographical and imaginary spaces opens a window on plot construction. Repetition and variation are considered as a narrative technique within Marie's work, and as a cultural practice linking her texts to a network of twelfth-century textual traditions. The Conclusion, on the posterity of her oeuvre, combines a consideration of manuscript context with the ways in which later authors rewrote Marie's works. Sharon Kinoshita is Professor of Literature, University of California, Santa Cruz; Peggy McCracken is Professor of French, Women's Studies, and Comparative Literature, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-861-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. 1 Introduction: The World of Marie de France
    (pp. 1-16)

    The works associated with Marie de France include the Lais, a collection of short narratives influenced by Celtic tales and courtly literature, probably written around 1170; a collection of fables known as the Ysopë, probably composed between 1189 and 1208 and partly translated from earlier texts; and L’espurgatoire seint Patriz (Saint Patrick’s Purgatory), translated from the Cistercian monk H. de Saltrey’s Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii in around 1190.¹ She may also have composed a Life of Saint Audrey (Vie seinte Audree), also attributed to a “Marie,” but her authorship of this text is still debated.²

    People have been writing...

  6. 2 Communication, Transmission, and Interpretation: Literary History
    (pp. 17-50)

    “Marie de France” is our name for an author figure who claims to have been born “in France” but composed the texts attributed to her in England, drawing on oral traditions in Celtic and written traditions in Anglo-Saxon and Latin. In contrast to the works of Chrétien de Troyes, who describes his sources more allusively – “a book from the library of my lord Saint Peter in Beauvais” (Cligés, l. 21) or “the book of the story of the grail, given him by the count [Philip of Flanders]” (Le conte du graal, ll. 64–5) – Marie’s sources have been...

  7. 3 Courtly Love and Feudal Society: Historical Context
    (pp. 51-112)

    Vernacular literature, writes the historian Georges Duby, was one of the forms “forged to assert the independence of a culture, that of warriors, which was arrogant and, in its enjoyment of life, was resolutely opposed to the culture of the priests.”¹ Against a view of medieval society as a seamless whole – a view that assumes the consonance between religious and secular society and thus predisposes us to expect learnèd culture to influence the vernacular culture of its day – Duby invites us to consider concerns like marriage and adultery, chivalry, honor, and good lordship, specific to the secular nobility...

  8. 4 Movement and Mobility: Plot
    (pp. 113-142)

    Marie de France is a master of the episodic form.¹ Her works unfold in relatively short narrative segments that are defined less by temporality than by movement. In her collection of lais, stories are structured by travel between places as well as by movement among conflicting obligations, desires, and value systems. Time passes, but its passage is not usually described with any urgency or explanation – why does Guigemar’s lady suffer for two years (and not one or three) before going to the shore to drown herself and instead finding the boat that takes her to the court where she...

  9. 5 Bodies and Embodiment: Characters
    (pp. 143-172)

    Marie de France’s works mobilize characters who seek love and adventure, learn to appreciate the safety of home, and undertake the physical experience of a spiritual journey through Purgatory. In all of Marie’s texts, characters experience the world through their bodies. Each work also includes an exploration of the values of embodiment. Marie uses forms of embodiment to point to categories of identity – beauty is a quality of noble status, for example. But bodies are often changing and changeable in Marie’s narratives, and the values associated with forms of embodiment may also change or come into contact with each...

  10. 6 Repetition and the Art of Variation: Narrative Techniques
    (pp. 173-200)

    As has been evident throughout this book, the project of interpreting medieval texts often throws into question many of the basic assumptions modern readers bring to the study of literature. Questions of authorship, as we saw in Chapter 1, run up against issues such as the uncertain or hypothetical attribution of many works and our authors’ absence from the historical record; meanwhile, questions of what constitutes a medieval work are complicated by textual variation across manuscripts and recensions. In this chapter we turn to repetition and variation, not as accidents of history and textual transmission but as a fundamental aspect...

  11. 7 Posterity: The Afterlives of Marie’s Works
    (pp. 201-218)

    One of the only things Marie de France tells us about herself is that she does not want to be forgotten, and when she gives readers her name, it is so that they will remember it:

    Hear, lords, the stories of Marie, who is not forgotten in her own time.

    Oëz, seignur, que dit Marie,

    ki en sun tens pas ne s’oblie. (Guigemar, 11. 3–4)

    At the end of this composition that I have composed and put into French, I will name myself for remembrance: my name is Marie and I am from France.

    Al finement de cest escrit...

    (pp. 219-224)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 225-228)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-231)