Looking Back: Medieval French Romance and the Dynamics of Seeing

Looking Back: Medieval French Romance and the Dynamics of Seeing

Human, Julie L.

Doctor of Philosophy (Romance Languages and Literatures: French) in the University of Michigan (2010) 


This dissertation examines looking in twelfth- and thirteenth-century French romances and argues for its importance in understanding the ways in which the interrelational dynamics between characters are both scripted and subverted through seeing and through the circulation of knowledge about what is seen. Focusing on how medieval love narratives construct sight, and how sight constructs these narratives via the repetition of scenes of looking and in the representation through looking of relationships between characters, this project seeks to understand how seeing in medieval romances complicates the view of female characters objectified by masculine desire.

The first chapter explores the repeated use of windows as a frame in Chrétien de Troyes’s Le Chevalier de la Charrette for the ways in which characters relate to each other. The second chapter discusses how objects define relationships between male and female characters in the Prose Lancelot and the Mort Artu, and how the characters act upon the objects and, in turn, how the objects act upon the characters. The third chapter focuses on seeing and on claims to have seen a maiden’s birthmark in Jean Renart’s Roman de la Rose, and the ways that the tension between seeing and speaking turn the  lady and her birthmark into objects of circulation in the narrative. Sight is privileged in the analysis as the primary sense associated with love; as the chapters progress, other senses are at play with seeing.

Click here to read this article from the University of Michigan

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