Triangles of the Sacred Sisterhood
MacDonald, Aileen (Memorial University of Newfoundland)
Florilegium, Volume 22 (2005)
“Triangles of the Sacred Sisterhood” shows how Marie de France, in Éliduc, and Clemence of Barking, in her Life of Saint Catherine, subvert the eternal triangle of husband, wife, and lover when they form new triangles in which two ladies act together as sisters against one man to obliterate an old patriarchal power block and give rare advantage to the female side. Love of God is chosen over courtly love by both authors, and Marie, like Clemence, is seen as a powerful advocate of a highly cultured and influential convent sisterhood.
In an article entitled “The Structuring of Feminine Empowerment: Gender and Triangular Relationships,” Nora Cottille-Foley discusses how Marie de France sometimes subverts the eternal triangle of husband, wife, and lover and reforms it in order to further the agency and power of the female protagonist. In both the courtly romance and comic fabliau, as Cottille-Foley notes, the adulterous triangle of husband, wife, and lover is a prominent theme. The perspectives, of course, are quite different: in courtly works, the main interest focuses on the illicit love relationship of wife and lover, whereas in the fabliau the focus is on the conflict of the married couple, their relationship being a source of comedy, derived often from the pairing of a lustful, deceitful wife and a rather dim-witted but domineering husband. In both courtly and comic genres, the tri- angle is a site of conflict.