The Anonymous Marie de France

The Anonymous Marie de France

R. Bloch

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780226059686

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

This book offers a fundamental reconception of the person generally assumed to be the first woman writer in French, the author known as Marie de France. It considers 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. This book'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, it is argued, 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.