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Displacement and redemption in the Lais of Marie de France

Displacement and redemption in the Lais of Marie de France

By Sharon Lynn Dunkel

Master’s Thesis, University of British Columbia, 1988

Marie de France from an illuminated manuscript – BnF, Arsenal Library, Ms. 3142 fol. 256.

Abstract: In the endless cycle of life and death, the issues of love and marriage are a constant and recurrent theme of literature. The man, as a foreigner, comes to court the woman with the intent of taking her away from her parents and bringing her into his own home. He must first convince the woman to leave the paternal location. The hearth, the center of the new home and the symbol of his wife, constitutes the one constant and stable aspect of the man’s otherwise nomadic existence. The tensions and conflict inherent in this masculine struggle serve to mold and prepare the man for his future role as the protector and provider of his home and society.

The woman, for her part, must also undergo a spatial displacement. Not only must she travel to the new domicile, but she must also be prepared to change and adapt herself to the idea of leaving her birthplace. The vertical movement from the tower to the grove by way of the bedroom constitutes the process of maturation for the lady. Once she has proven herself capable of adulthood, the woman will assist her mate in gaining access to the society he had originally rejected in his search for self. Thus the woman serves as the instrument of God in redeeming the man while maintaining her own individuality, seen in the parallel process of displacement which she experiences.

The reader response to the text of the Lais is based upon the realization that the reader also experiences a type of spatial displacement similar to that of the protagonists. Marie, through the use of a variety of literary mechanisms, forces the recipients of the text to go back in time and space to the mythic locale of Bretaigne. The purpose of this narrative technique is that, through identification with the various characters, each reader learns the proper methods of social interaction. In other words, the twelve stories form a manual of courtly etiquette.

The Lais of Marie de France are not only for entertainment but for edification as well.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of British Columbia

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