'Une aventure novele est en cele sale venue': dynamics of narrative, people and place in old French literature.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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This thesis analyses twelfth- and thirteenth-century French texts from a range of genres to demonstrate how the inter-relation of narrative and place is a catalyst for the production of vernacular literary works. Rooted in close criticism of the texts in question (the Roman d’Eneas, lives of the martyrs Christina of Tyre and Catherine of Alexandria, the Voyage de saint Brendan, lives of the ascetics Alexis and Mary of Egypt, and the Roman de Brut), this study examines the ways in which narration both generates and delimits place. In tandem with this it interrogates the representations of, and disturbances to, the spatial organization of these texts, encompassing such themes as empire-building, genealogy, travel and exile. This juxtaposition of diverse materials opens up mutually illuminating spaces, demonstrating the instability of the entrenched generic categories applied to them and prompting consideration of the ambiguous principles of medieval poetic craft. Hagiography is a particularly pertinent crossing-point for multiple thematic concerns, from the tension between revelation and concealment of the body to the relationship between a state and its citizens. Its location at the confluence of liturgy, lay spirituality and entertainment makes it an apt focus for a study such as this. The thesis also considers questions of cultural and political appropriation and re-appropriation of place, drawing on medieval writers’ and thinkers’ conflicted relationship with their classical antecedents and non-Christian ‘others’. The many and varied journeys undertaken in these texts, meanwhile, offer critical meeting points between practices of writing about place across a range of modes, and they invite consideration of the historical contexts for their production. Foremost in this study, however, is a concern with the ways in which medieval narratives reify story; through close attention to how narratives are produced, preserved and transmitted in these texts, I examine the ethics and efficacy of storytelling as a means for creating place. Whether they re-present foundation myths, the trials of saints, or the fantastical journeys of adventurers, these stories are both container and content for reflections on how authors can relate to their world, and it this sense of the two faces of narrative that underpins my interpretation of these texts and their representations of places and spaces.
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