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Socializing the Sorceress: The Fairy Mistress in Lanval, Le Bel Inconnu, and Partonopeu de Blois

Socializing the Sorceress: The Fairy Mistress in Lanval, Le Bel Inconnu, and Partonopeu de Blois

Donagher, Colleen P.

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 4 (1987)

Abstract

Among the most extensive Old French developments of the traditional Celtic fairy mistress motif are the Lanval of Marie de France; Le Bel Inconnu by Renaut de Bâgé and the anonymous Partonopeu de Blois. Though there is disagreement as to the dating of the texts, particularly the latter two, all are considered to be fairly early, with none dating after the early thirteenth century, and perhaps all three belonging to the twelfth. They therefore provide the opportunity to study early Old French transformations of a motif which had probably been received recently as a result of the exchange of cultures in Anglo Norman England. The fairy mistress motif as it is found in extant Celtic sources receives a variety of treatments, too extensive to be analyzed here. Normally, however, the story involves a woman who, on the basis of a mortal man’s reputation, comes from the other world to choose him for her lover; imposes a geis or prohibition on him (or simply informs him of the existence of such a prohibition), which he later breaks; and then punishes him (or must stand by helplessly and watch him being punished) for his disobedience, usually by a withdrawal of her love. The geis is, of course, a ubiquitous motif in Celtic literature, not peculiar to the fairy mistress motif. Yet is is interesting to note that the use of geasa is common in Old French texts in which this motif is found.

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