The Anonymous Marie de France
by R. Howard Bloch
University of Chicago Press, 2003
Cloth: 978-0-226-05968-6 | Paper: 978-0-226-05984-6 | Electronic: 978-0-226-05969-3
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226059693.001.0001
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

This book by one of our most admired and influential medievalists offers a fundamental reconception of the person generally assumed to be the first woman writer in French, the author known as Marie de France. The Anonymous Marie de France is the first work to consider all of the writing ascribed to Marie, including her famous Lais, her 103 animal fables, and the earliest vernacular Saint Patrick's Purgatory.

Evidence about Marie de France's life is so meager that we know next to nothing about her-not where she was born and to what rank, who her parents were, whether she was married or single, where she lived and might have traveled, whether she dwelled in cloister or at court, nor whether in England or France. In the face of this great writer's near anonymity, scholars have assumed her to be a simple, naive, and modest Christian figure. Bloch's claim, in contrast, is that Marie is among the most self-conscious, sophisticated, complicated, and disturbing figures of her time-the Joyce of the twelfth century. At a moment of great historical turning, the so-called Renaissance of the twelfth century, Marie was both a disrupter of prevailing cultural values and a founder of new ones. Her works, Bloch argues, reveal an author obsessed by writing, by memory, and by translation, and acutely aware not only of her role in the preservation of cultural memory, but of the transforming psychological, social, and political effects of writing within an oral tradition.

Marie's intervention lies in her obsession with the performative capacities of literature and in her acute awareness of the role of the subject in interpreting his or her own world. According to Bloch, Marie develops a theology of language in the Lais, which emphasize the impossibility of living in the flesh along with a social vision of feudalism in decline. She elaborates an ethics of language in the Fables, which, within the context of the court of Henry II, frame and form the urban values and legal institutions of the Anglo-Norman world. And in her Espurgatoire, she produces a startling examination of the afterlife which Bloch links to the English conquest and occupation of medieval Ireland.

With a penetrating glimpse into works such as these, The Anonymous Marie de France recovers the central achievements of one of the most pivotal figures in French literature. It is a study that will be of enormous value to medievalists, literary scholars, historians of France, and anyone interested in the advent of female authorship.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

R. Howard Bloch is the Augustus R. Street Professor of French at Yale University. He is the author or editor of nine previous books, most recently Medievalism and the Modernist Temper and God's Plagiarist: Being an Account of the Fabulous Industry and Irregular Commerce of the Abbé Migne, the latter published by the University of Chicago Press

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Acknowledgments

Note on Texts

- R. Howard Bloch
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226059693.003.0001
[Marie de France, woman poet, France, anonymity, authorship, authorial attribution]
This introductory chapter discusses the contents of this volume which is about the works and identity of Marie de France who is considered France's first woman poet. It suggests that the anonymity of Marie de France is not simply a matter of lack of attention to detail because the concept of authorship already existed at a high level of sophistication in the twelfth century. This chapter argues that the case of Marie de France is no different from any other case of authorial attribution where there is no sufficient documentation to reach a closure. (pages 1 - 24)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- R. Howard Bloch
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226059693.003.0002
[aventure, Lai, Marie de France, plurivalent signifiers, unarticulated consciousness]
This chapter analyzes the meaning of the word aventure in Marie de France's Lai. It suggests that aventure is one of the richly plurivalent signifiers of the Lais and constitutes a liminal key to the whole. This word designates that which exists before and beyond the text in the fantasy of an unrecounted, unremembered, chaotic realm of unarticulated consciousness. This is the reason why many of the stories in the Lais literally framed by the word aventure. (pages 25 - 50)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- R. Howard Bloch
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226059693.003.0003
[drama of language, Marie de France, Lais, Guigemar, control over meaning, language theater, plotted scrutiny]
This chapter examines the drama of language in Marie de France's Lais and Guigemar. It suggests that this drama involves a deep desire on Marie's part for control over meaning and over intention in her works. This chapter also discusses Marie's language theater which only uses language as a poetic vehicle but makes of it an object of plotted scrutiny. (pages 51 - 82)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- R. Howard Bloch
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226059693.003.0004
[Lais, Marie de France, language, fated exposure, overt speech act]
This chapter analyzes the tone or voice in Marie de France's Lais. It argues that the fatality attached to language in the Lais seems to function in a number of tales according to the so-called law of fated exposure. This chapter explains how revelation language works as an agent of despoiling disclosure in the Lais and suggests that the overt speech act can be seen to be less the primary source of the morbidity connected to language in the Lais than its culmination. (pages 83 - 110)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- R. Howard Bloch
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226059693.003.0005
[Fables, Marie de France, language, Lais, poetic persona, didactic tale]
This chapter examines language use in Marie de France's Fables. It suggests that the basic material of the fable gains the resonance of a didactic tale alongside the dit, beau dit, mots, beaux mots, or aventure which also carries the meaning “story.” It also mentions that the work fable is synonymous with a lie, with ruse, or with fiction. This chapter analyzes the extent to which the Lais and Fables should be read together and to what degree do they offer internal evidence of a single poetic persona. (pages 111 - 138)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- R. Howard Bloch
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226059693.003.0006
[Fables, Marie de France, social mobility, moral lessons, element of value, determinant of action, truth and lies]
This chapter discusses the moral lessons and the depiction of social mobility in Marie de France's Fables. It suggests that in the Fables Marie was obsessed with the question of perspective and of interpretation as the determining element of value, and of value as a determinant of action. This chapter also argues that the truth of the Fables lies not in the dispensation of truth, but in the exposition of an opposition between truth and lies that can be translated into appropriate and inappropriate action. (pages 139 - 174)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- R. Howard Bloch
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226059693.003.0007
[Fables, Marie de France, monarchic state, violence, feudal world, predatory instinct, logic, the body, animal appetites, human relations]
This chapter examines the meaning of Marie de France's Fables in relation to the rise of the monarchic state. It suggests that the Fables represents the institutionalization of the violence of the feudal world within the new civil space of city and court where the predatory instinct takes the form of envy. This chapter also argues that the conflict between logic and the body and Marie's thoughts about the absolutism of appetite are depicted in the presence and role of the animal appetites in human relations. (pages 175 - 205)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- R. Howard Bloch
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226059693.003.0008
[Espurgatoire Seint Patriz, Marie de France, Lais, Fables, theoretical oeuvre, William Shakespeare, Hamlet]
This chapter analyzes the key issues explored in Marie de France's Espurgatoire Seint Patriz. It suggests that this work resolved most of the unresolved issues in Lais and Fables and it the most theoretically sophisticated work of a self-consciously theoretical oeuvre. It also states that this work is considered to be one of the best sellers of the Middle Ages. This chapter also shows that Espurgatoire Seint Patriz is the first literary rendering to William Shakespeare's mention of Hamlet's father's ghost. (pages 206 - 240)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- R. Howard Bloch
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226059693.003.0009
[Espurgatoire Seint Patriz, Marie de France, Tractatus, documentary treatise, Purgatory, cultural discourses]
This chapter examines the elements of doctrine that fit into the mold of fable and of romance in Marie de France's Espurgatoire Seint Patriz, her translation of the Tractatus. It analyzes Marie's reasons for choosing to write a literary translation of Tractatus and describes how Espurgatoire Seint Patriz served as a dissemination of the legend in the vernacular. This chapter also argues that what the Espurgatoire Seint Patriz accomplished in converting a supposedly documentary treatise on the origins and workings of Purgatory into a tale of knightly deeds is significant because it is a translation not just between languages but between different cultural discourses. (pages 241 - 266)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- R. Howard Bloch
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226059693.003.0010
[Espurgatoire Seint Patriz, Marie de France, Saint Patrick, afterlife, Purgatory, Ireland, raising the dead]
This chapter analyzes the depiction of Saint Patrick, afterlife, and Purgatory in Marie de France's Espurgatoire Seint Patriz. The analysis suggests that the visions of the afterlife in which purgatory takes the shape in Espurgatoire Seint Patriz have nothing to do with Saint Patrick. This chapter also explains that though Saint Patrick may have traveled throughout Ireland raising the dead, the dead whom he raised did not visit Purgatory; nor is Purgatory synonymous with an underground cavern. (pages 267 - 310)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Conclusion

Notes

Index