PW: Marie de France

The Person of the Week for this week is Marie de France, because I just think its really cool that a 12th century woman wrote hagiographical romances. These are not words that are usually combined. (Thanks to Michael for bringing Marie to my attention.) The illustration comes from Wikipedia.

There have now been four Old French works linked to Marie de France: the Lays, the Fables, the Life of Saint Audrey (Vie seinte Audree), and the Purgatory of Saint Patrick (Espurgatorie Saint Patriz). As you can see two of these works are on saints that are within the scope I have set out for Heavenfield. And, of course, there are Arthurian and Breton/Welsh ties to the Lays and Fables, so that peaks the interest of the long-dormant Arthurian in me. All summed up this makes Marie de France nearly irresistible… for a while anyway. So I checked out the Life of Saint Audrey and Purgatory of Saint Patrick from the library this week. Hopefully I will get to at least one of them over the holidays.

There doesn’t seem to be much known about Marie herself. She wrote in the late 12th to early 13th century. In her Fables, she describes herself as ‘of France’ but otherwise only uses Marie. It is assumed that she was born in France, but resided somewhere in England under the Normans and was part of the Norman aristocracy. One of her reasons for compiling her works is to ‘translate’ them into French verse so that they can be read and enjoyed by the laity.

There is much discussion on whether she was a lay woman or a nun. She never calls herself a nun, refers to a convent as her home or uses religious terminology to refer to her patrons. The only illustration of Marie (above) shows her in secular dress with long flowing hair. Consensus seems to be forming therefore that she was an aristocratic lay woman who may have never entered a convent. Blanton (2007) and McCabe and Barban (2006) suggest that the Life of Saint Audrey was written by an aristocratic woman for the enjoyment specifically of other aristocratic women. According to McCabe and Barban, Marie de Meulan, daughter of Galeran (Waleran) de Meulan and wife of Hugh Talbot is the current leading contender.

I’ll be reading more from:

June Hall McCash and Judith Clark Barban, trans and ed. (2006) The Life of Saint Audrey: A Text by Marie de France. McFarland.

Michael Curley, trans and ed. (1993) Saint Patrick’s Purgatory: A Poem by Marie de France. Medieval and Renasissance Texts and Studies.

Virginia Blanton (2007) Signs of Devotion: The Cult of St. Æthelthryth in Medieval England, 695-1615. Penn State Press.


One thought on “PW: Marie de France

  1. note page vii of the McCash. In the acknowledgments. I am the one who, “without remuneration” compared the original manuscript, well, a microfiche anyway, with Sodergard’s transcription. A looonnnggg arduous task that took the better part of a summer, but, I actually found two lines that sodergard missed. Let me know how the Blanton is, I am curious about it.

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