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Title: Founding women in medieval French prose romance
Author: Boitani, Giulia
ISNI:       0000 0004 9347 8758
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2020
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The thesis entitled ‘Founding Women in Medieval French Prose Romance’ analyses the important role given to foundresses in the fictional works of 13th and 14th century romanciers. The study of three genealogical texts – Jean d’Arras’ Roman de Mélusine, the prehistory of the Tristan en Prose, and the Roman de Perceforest illustrate first and foremost the limits of the widely accepted assertion regarding the ‘absence’ of women in genealogical narratives of the time. I argue, on the contrary, that for these medieval authors women constitute an untapped source of literary potential, since by the 13th century all possible narratives surrounding Europe’s founding fathers were virtually exhausted. These female characters thus champion the creation of new narratives that run parallel to previous literature, but they also function as precious intertextual grafts that enable the romance author to tie his work to his literary precedents, guaranteeing a status of legitimacy to his own creation. By exploring the narrative trajectories of foundresses such as Mélusine, Presine (Mélusine), Chelinde (Tristan), Cerses and Lydoire (Peceforest) I show how these texts propose a new literary relationship tying fictional women to medieval romances: indeed, in these works the roles of generator of genealogy and generator of genealogical text become increasingly confused; thus, founding women often represent narrative trajectories which can support as much as run counter to that of their author. This unique quality, which marks these female characters against the passive and silent voices of their courtly counterparts, is due to the linguistic quality of lineage in these romances. Through an anthropological perspective I show how these texts envision kinship relations not as natural, blood bonds, but rather as linguistic alliances. Fictional foundresses are given the remarkable privilege to voice or deny these alliances, and thus to call the genealogy – and the romance itself – into being. Characters such as Presine and Lydoire, for example, are endowed with an authorial voice which allows them to craft their lineage on their own terms and even direct the narrative outside of the romance itself, towards new and unexpected intertexts; yet even passive characters such as Chelinde, Mélusine and Cerses are given the means to voice their own histories. What this research makes clear is that at a time when, in Capetian France, women were being increasingly excluded from power and even their very role in producing legitimate heirs is being questioned, the fictional foundresses of prose romances not only place themselves at the head of powerful lineages: they also write alternative histories of the world, and finally weave a textual genealogy for their romances, one able to create a network that encompasses all of European history.
Supervisor: Burgwinkle, Bill ; Huot, Sylvia Sponsor: AHRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Medieval ; French ; Romance ; Prose ; Foundress ; Tristan ; Me´lusine ; Perceforest