Pseudo-Autobiography and the Role of the Poet in Jean Froissart’s Joli Buisson de Jonece
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 15 (1998)
The criticism to fourteenth-century first-person narrative poetry has had two, seemingly mutually exclusive, approaches. There are those, frequently the poems’ editors, who view the events narrated as true in a literal, historical sense, at least enough so that a careful reading of the poem can provide biographical information about the poet. In contrast, much recent criticism, influenced by theoretical approaches that minimize the role of the author in determining the meaning in his or her text, has treated these poems as though they were wholly fictional. In this essay I have used an approach which makes sense of both these ways of reading the poems and accounts for the fact that the poems “work” in either treatment. This reading strategy, which Laurence de Looze has called “pseudo-autobiography,” accounts for both our contemporary critical heritage and an aspect of the poems as yet untreated: not only can they be read in two mutually exclusive ways at the same time, but this doubleness seems to be a key feature of the way the poems work.
While this approach offers an effective means of exploring some of the fourteenth-century narrative poems in which I have been interested, for me it is also the significance of the approach with respect to our own critical heritage that I find engaging. Part of what I find exciting about reading literature, especially literature from a distant period, is that it is a means of contact with an other. Writing is, among other things, a means of communication, often very personal, specific communication. Recent developments in literary theory have minimized the role of the author in interpreting a text, especially the author’s intention, and rightly so. Unfortunately, in the effort to more carefully consider the reader’s role in creating a text’s meaning these treatments have also minimized the sense of contact with another time period, geographical place, or person.