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Women's Power in Late Medieval Romance

Women's Power in Late Medieval Romance

AMY N. VINES
Volume: 15
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 184
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.cttn3499
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  • Book Info
    Women's Power in Late Medieval Romance
    Book Description:

    The cultural and social power of women in the Middle Ages is perhaps hard to trace, with evidence for it scarce. This book argues that medieval romances provide a central, but under-explored, source for and examples of such authority. By reassessing the influence exerted by female characters, in a spectrum that includes both intellectual and chivalric aid and, in some cases, patronage, it considers how they functioned as models of cultural, intellectual, and social authority in medieval literary texts. In addition to examples set by the family connections, socio-political networks, and textual communities in which they lived, this study argues that women also learned methods of influence from the books they read. In texts like 'Troilus and Criseyde' and 'Partonope of Blois', the female reader encounters an explicit demonstration of how a woman`s intellectual and financial resources can be used. The literary representations of women's cultural power expose a continuum of influence from non-material effects to material sway in the medieval patronage system, an influence often unacknowledged in strictly historical and extra-literary sources. Amy N. Vines is Assistant Professor in the Department of English, University of North Carolina-Greensboro.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-783-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Chaucer’s now-famous reference to the romance of Lancelot and its enthusiastic audience strongly connects medieval women readers with the genre of romance.¹ Taking their cue from this and other medieval references, medievalist critics have for decades pursued the connection between women and romance in the Middle Ages with little regard for how these narratives represent female characters as sites of female authority. Although there are undoubtedly many reasons for the association between women readers and medieval romance, such as the popularity of vernacular literature, including hagiographies, chronicles, and romances, for women readers in the Middle Ages, some scholars have relied...

  7. 1 Prophecy as Social Influence: Cassandra, Anne Neville and the Corpus Christi Manuscript of Troilus and Criseyde
    (pp. 17-52)

    In a late twelfth-century French chanson de geste, Raoul de Cambrai, the hero engages in a vicious and, ultimately, self-destructive feud with his former closest friend and ally, Bernier. Raoul’s lack of moderation — in matters of revenge and in the desire for political and chivalric advancement — has placed him in this position. To a great extent, his immoderation is worsened by his resistance to accepting his mother’s sage counsel. Beginning in stanza 48 of the poem, the Lady Aalais chides her son for failing to fight for his own birthright, which was given to another knight to hold in trust...

  8. 2 The Science of Female Power in John Metham’s Amoryus and Cleopes
    (pp. 53-84)

    The previous chapter considered literary examples of women’s social influence in the least likely of contexts: the final days of the doomed city of Troy. Cassandra’s prophetic discourse, based entirely in historical and textual rather than supernatural knowledge, is incapable of altering the course of the city’s fate or even the death of her brother. However, the female reader of this text is still offered in the character of Cassandra — and even of Criseyde — a pattern of influential behavior that succeeds in ameliorating a hopeless situation to an extent. Troilus still dies, but he dies well thanks to the productive...

  9. 3 A Woman’s “Crafte”: Sexual and Chivalric Patronage in Partonope of Blois
    (pp. 85-114)

    The models of female agency depicted in medieval romances illustrate the difficulties a woman faces in extending her influence to the prominent men in her life and to the spheres of cultural and intellectual authority they more easily occupy; disbelief, hostile resistance, and potential social stigmatization by disapproving parents or relentless gossips are only some of the challenges that the heroines in romances like Troilus and Criseyde and Amoryus and Cleopes confront. However, these literary models also provide detailed examples of how to negotiate the obstacles to women’s sponsorship, mapping a process whereby the deployment of a single branch of...

  10. 4 Creative Revisions: Competing Figures of the Patroness in Thomas Chestre’s Sir Launfal
    (pp. 115-140)

    As I discuss in my Introduction, one of the larger contributions of this study is its revision and rehabilitation of the traditional reading of the romance heroine as a passive and vulnerable figure.¹ I contend that these characters and the romances in which they appear actually modeled a particularly far-reaching and powerful form of cultural agency in the late Middle Ages through various interventions in social and political systems such as patronage. However, in tracing the active forms of intellectual and financial influence demonstrated by the heroine in late medieval romances, we must avoid reading the male figures in these...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 141-148)

    This study has considered fictional models of female social influence and patronage in late medieval romances; these characters, I argue, offer women readers thorough examples of the ways in which many different skills and forms of knowledge not limited to material wealth can be marshaled to influence the cultural and political realms they inhabit. By making a deeper inquiry into alternatives to the limited conceptions of social influence and patronage espoused by many scholars, this book re-evaluates a system based primarily on masculine power and property to consider the impact of women’s particular knowledge and talents on that system. Yet...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 149-162)
  13. Index
    (pp. 163-170)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 171-173)