The French Woman Writer in the Middle Ages: Staying Up Late

The French Woman Writer in the Middle Ages: Staying Up Late

Sankovitch, Tilde

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol 7. (1990)


According to her own testimony, Marie de France, the principal subject of this paper, frequently stayed up late in order to work on the composition of her La is; in the “Prologue” she writes that “soventes fiez en ai veillé” (1. 42). The fact that she did so has drawn some scholarly comments. Two different articles in the 1988 Stanford French and Italian Studies Volume on Women in French Literature comment specifically on line 42 of the “Prologue.” Coincidence or not?

I believe that the attention drawn to this evocative little detail, to this vignette, carefully ferreted out of the text, expresses the desire felt by many literary scholars to “know,” to “get to know” the writers of whom they speak. That desire for or impulse toward knowledge and familiarity has been belittled or ridiculed by other critics who least of all desire to become familiar with authors, dead or alive, or who obliterate the very notion of the author from their interpretative scheme, as an intrusive and in any case irrelevant notion. Of course for those who deal with “modern” (Renaissance or post-Renaissance) authors, this elimination is easier to accomplish, for, whether we believe in authors or not, at a certain time in literary history we start knowing a lot about them, either because they have insisted on telling us, or because zealous biographers have done it for them. That extensive knowledge is a comfortable epistemological cushion for the critics who at the same time pull the ontological rug out from under the authors.

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