The Lais by Marie de France

The plot: Marie de France (the name means Marie from France)’s Lais is a collection of Chivelric romance set in a poetic rhyme scheme. The stories aren’t connected. I read the Norwegian translation by Helge Nordahl.lossy-page1-250px-Marie_de_France_1.tif

My thoughts: I don’t know how many French, female writers there were in the Middle Ages, but I feel as if someone is pushing me towards these works. No sooner had I finished Christin de Pizan, (yes, she was born Italian, but she wrote in France to a French audience and lived in France for a large part of her life), then I found Marie de France’s Lais. My impression is that these two works show that literature from the Middle Ages could be diverse, just like literature today. While Christine de Pizan wrote moral tales and instructions on proper behaviour, Marie de France wrote good old fashioned Chivelric romance.


Chivelric romance refers to an adventure tale that could include romance in the modern word, rather than a pure romance tale. But, Marie’s Lais are all about the romance in the modern understanding. It’s about knights who fall in love with married women, and the long looks they give one another as the married woman is mistreated by her husband and looked away in a tower.


The fact that the women are married is a vital part to the stories, and some of the tales do get a ‘don’t worry, she’s married’ vibe to them. Since marriage was a strategic move, the noble society developed an aspect of love that was separated from the world of marriage. This understanding of love was caught (or placed) in a form of duality. It was pure and noble, yet sinful, and this duality was part of the driving force to it.

1-Wm. Blair Leighton's The End of Song

I’m wondering if this idea of love developed as a form of rebellion. If nothing else, Christine de Pizan’s work shows that the social life of the Middle ages had strict guidelines. While she doesn’t state that it out loud, it’s easy to read in the text an idea as humans as vulnerable. If you as a person in the Middle Ages was cast out of the social group, you would die. Therefore, you can understand why it was so important to not be segregated from the group. Could therefore this idea of love have been developed as a way of rebelling against these strict social norms. It’s so important that the woman is married, because married women couldn’t choose their own husbands, and men could imagine they could get anyone they want based on their own actions, and not just based on their income.

I’m just thinking out loud, and would love to hear what you think about why the nobility in the Middle Ages developed this idea of love that was so different to their social norms.

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