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.
"Mr. Bloch has attempted to establish what he calls a 'literary anthropology.' The project is important and ambitious. It seems to me that Mr. Bloch has completely achieved this ambition." –Michel Foucault
"Bloch's Study is a genuinely interdisciplinary one, bringing together elements of history, ethnology, philology, philosophy, economics and literature, with the undoubted ambition of generating a new synthesis which will enable us to read the Middle Ages in a different light.
Stated simply, and in terms which do justice neither to the density nor the subtlety of his argument, Bloch's thesis is this: that medieval society perceived itself in terms of a vertical mode of descent from origins. This model is articulated etymologically in medieval theories of grammar and language, and is consequently reflected in historical and theological writings; it is also latent in the genealogical structure of the aristocratic family as it began to be organized in France in the twelfth century, and is made manifest in such systems of signs as heraldry and the adoption of patronymns. . . .
It is an ingenious and compelling synthesis which no medievalist, even on this side of the Atlantic, can afford to ignore." –Nicholas Mann, Times Literary Supplement
God's Plagiarist is an entertaining account of the abbe Jacques-Paul Migne, one of the great entrepreneurs of the nineteenth century. A priest in Orleans from 1824 to 1833, Migne then moved to Paris, where, in the space of a decade, he built one of the most extensive publishing ventures of all time.
How did he do it?
Migne harnessed a deep well of personal energy and a will of iron to the latest innovations in print technology, advertising, and merchandising. His assembly-line production and innovative marketing of the massive editions of the Church Fathers placed him at the forefront of France's new commerce. Characterized by the police as one of the great "schemers" of the century, this priest-entrepreneur put the most questionable of business practices in the service of his devotion to Catholicism.
Part detective novel, part morality tale, Bloch's narrative not only will interest scholars of nineteenth-century French intellectual history but will appeal also to general readers interested in the history of publishing or just a good historical yarn.
"An unforgettable, Daumier-like portrait, sharp and satirical, of this enterprising, austere and somewhat crazed merchandiser of sacred learning. . . . Bloch deserves great credit for the wit and style of his effort to explore the Pedantic Park of nineteenth-century learning, that island of monsters which scholars have found, as yet, no escape."—Anthony Grafton, New Republic
"Bloch is an exhilarating guide to the methods which made Migne the Napoleon of the Prospectus, a publicist of genius, Buffalo Bill and P.T. Barnum rolled into one."—David Coward, Times Literary Supplement
"Mercifully, Bloch's sense of humour has none of that condescending mock-bewilderment commonly applied to the foreign or ancient. . . . It enables Bloch to promote Migne as a forerunner of the department store and to place him on a continuum running from St. Paul to the Tupperware party: the quality of the merchandise is increasingly irrelevant, still more the nature of its contents."—Graham Robb, London Review of Books
Until now the advent of Western romantic love has been seen as a liberation from—or antidote to—ten centuries of misogyny. In this major contribution to gender studies, R. Howard Bloch demonstrates how similar the ubiquitous antifeminism of medieval times and the romantic idealization of woman actually are.
Through analyses of a broad range of patristic and medieval texts, Bloch explores the Christian construction of gender in which the flesh is feminized, the feminine is aestheticized, and aesthetics are condemned in theological terms. Tracing the underlying theme of virginity from the Church Fathers to the courtly poets, Bloch establishes the continuity between early Christian antifeminism and the idealization of woman that emerged in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In conclusion he explains the likely social, economic, and legal causes for the seeming inversion of the terms of misogyny into those of an idealizing tradition of love that exists alongside its earlier avatar until the current era.
This startling study will be of great value to students of medieval literature as well as to historians of culture and gender.
The Scandal of the Fabliaux
R. Howard Bloch University of Chicago Press, 1986 Library of Congress PQ207.B56 1986 | Dewey Decimal 841.109
R. Howard Bloch argues that medieval French comic tales are shocking not so much for their dirty words, scatology, and celebration of the body in all its concavities and protrusions, but moreso for their insistent exposure of the scandal of their own production. Looking first at fabliaux about poets, Bloch demonstrates that the medieval comic poet was highly conscious of the inadequacy of language and pushed this perception to its logical, scandalous limit. The comic function of the fabliaux was intentionally disruptive: anticlerical, antifeminist, and antiestablishment, these tales were part of a sophisticated culture's critical perspective on itself.
By showing how the medieval poet's obsession with the outrageous, the low, and the lewd was intimately bound to poetry, Bloch forces a revision of traditional approaches to Old French literature. His final chapter, on castration anxiety, fetishism, and the comic, links the fabliaux with the development of modern notions of the self and makes a case for the medieval roots of our own sense of humor.