Sunday, May 12, 2013

I Kept Misspelling France When I Wrote This Post

Let it be noted that this happened when I tried to talk to my father about Marie de France:

Me: "...and then this bird flaps into her window and just turns into this KNIGHT and then he's like no, it's cool, I'm totally not the devil because I can change into YOU and take communion, and it's hysterical."
Dad: "...Write about it on your blog."
Me: "Hmph. Fine. I will."
Dad: "Yes, I know you will."

So yeah, my father is always right, keep calm and carry on.

Okay! Today we are talking about Marie de France, BAMF of the early Medieval times. We don't actually know much about Marie de France (speculation runs the gamut from sister-in-law of Eleanor of Aquitaine to the abbess of Reading - yes, ironic, but Reading is a place. Silly France) except her name. But we do know her name, since she stamped it on EVERYTHING. She was actually the first person to do this, and she flat out says:

I shall name myself so that I will be remembered;
Marie is my name, I am of France.
It may be that many clerks
will try to take my labor as their own.
I don't want any of them to claim it.
I feel at a loss to say anything but, YOU GO GIRL!

Super flattering.
But just being a kick-ass female writer who started the trend of claiming her work wasn't enough for Marie. She also established "lais" as an art form. Lais are short rhymed stories about love and chivalry. Marie de France's work in particular is notable for its detail and impressive use of imagery. (They're also impressively bonkers in some parts. Celtic myths, you are weird. Just know that.)

Not only was she way ahead of the game in terms of the little fact that her lais, oh, signaled the END OF THE DARK AGES uh YEAH, but Marie de France's work gave a voice to women of the time. Her lais are filled with a range of characters and personalities, but all of the women seem to leap off the page with life. They have wants and needs and they try hard and they make mistakes. The women in her stories mostly want love, and Marie de France is remarkably forgiving of those women who venture outside of their marriages to seek it.

The lais of Marie de France gave women agency, and in some ways that's remarkable even now.

Scholars tend to characterize her writing as sorrowful and the women in them as inarticulate and vulnerable, but frankly I think those scholars are poopheads. The women in Marie de France's lais are often imprisoned - a literal interpretation of the restrictions on women at the time. The women take measures that are realistic for their situations. They are not confused or inarticulate at all in my opinion. Would you call this woman's words inarticulate?
"I've often heard
that one could once find
adventures in this land
that brought relief to the unhappy.
Knights might find young girls
so noble and lovely;
and ladies find lovers
so handsome, courtly, brave, and valient
that they could not be blamed for their actions,
and no one else would detect them.
If that might be or ever was,
if that has ever happened to anyone,
God, please grant me this wish."
Because I sure wouldn't.

1 comment:

  1. BAMF is right!

    Although if I were your Dad and you were telling that story to me I would definitely want to hear the whole thing right then and there.