The Chansons de Geste in the Age of Romance: Political Fictions

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Clarendon Press, 1995 - Literary Criticism - 273 pages
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This is a major reassessment of the relation between the medieval French chansons de geste and the romance genre. Critics have traditionally seen romance as a superior development of the chanson de geste. The chanson de geste are seen as 'formulaic', composed from a public fund of pre-existant and primarily oral narratives and motifs; romance on the other hand, is seen as a more sophisticated product of a newly 'literary' story-telling, line with the more complex social and political conditions of the time. Sarah Kay rejects this 'developmental' model of literary history and, through detailed readings of large numbers of texts - from the well-known Renaut de Montauban or Raoul de Cambrai to the unjustly neglected Doon de la Roche or Orson de Beauvais - reveals the simultaneity of the chansons de geste and romance in medieval culture. Drawing tellingly on recent literary and feminist theory, Kay argues that the chanson de geste and romance are engaged in a productive and telling dialogue; moreover, each genre illuminates the 'political unconscious' of the other: those political conflicts and contradictions that the text attempts to evade and disguise. In particular, Kay contends that romance brings with it new forms of sexism and patriarchy - forms much closer to those of the present - and that these need to be read against the politics of sexual difference inscribed in chansons de geste.

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About the author (1995)

Sarah Kay is at Girton College, Cambridge.

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