Sea of Silk: A Textile Geography of Women's Work in Medieval French Literature

Sea of Silk: A Textile Geography of Women's Work in Medieval French Literature

Sea of Silk: A Textile Geography of Women's Work in Medieval French Literature

Sea of Silk: A Textile Geography of Women's Work in Medieval French Literature

Synopsis

Sea of Silk A Textile Geography of Women's Work in Medieval French Literature E. Jane Burns "Burns shifts our focus from questions of the consumption of silk to those of its production and circulation; in so doing, she weaves a gendered history of the role this luxury textile has played in the social and libidinal economy of cultural exchange."--Sharon Kinoshita, University of California, Santa Cruz The story of silk is an old and familiar one, a tale involving mercantile travel and commercial exchange along the broad land mass that connects ancient China to the west and extending eventually to sites on the eastern Mediterranean and along sea routes to India. But if we shift our focus from economic histories that chart the exchange of silk along Asian and Mediterranean trade routes to medieval literary depictions of silk, a strikingly different picture comes into view. In Old French literary texts from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, emphasis falls on production rather than trade and on female protagonists who make, decorate, and handle silk. "Sea of Silk" maps a textile geography of silk work done by these fictional women. Situated in northern France and across the medieval Mediterranean, from Saint-Denis to Constantinople, from North Africa to Muslim Spain, and even from the fantasy realm of Arthurian romance to the historical silkworks of the Norman kings in Palermo, these medieval heroines provide important glimpses of distant economic and cultural geographies. E. Jane Burns argues, in brief, that literary portraits of medieval heroines who produce and decorate silk cloth or otherwise manipulate items of silk outline a metaphorical geography that includes France as an important cultural player in the silk economics of the Mediterranean. Within this literary sea of silk, female protagonists who "work" silk in a variety of ways often deploy it successfully as a social and cultural currency that enables them to traverse religious and political barriers while also crossing lines of gender and class. E. Jane Burns is Druscilla French Distinguished Professor of Women's Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is author of "Courtly Love Undressed: Reading Through Clothes in Medieval French Culture" and "Bodytalk: When Women Speak in Old French Literature," both also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press. The Middle Ages Series 2009 - 272 pages - 6 x 9 - 25 illus. ISBN 978-0-8122-4154-9 - Cloth - $59.95s - 39.00 World Rights - Literature, Women's/Gender Studies Short copy: E. Jane Burns argues that literary portraits of medieval heroines who produce and decorate silk cloth or otherwise manipulate items of silk outline a metaphorical geography that includes northern France as an important cultural player within the silk economics of the Mediterranean."

Excerpt

This book maps a textile geography of silk work done by female protagonists in Old French literary texts. It argues, in brief, that literary portraits of medieval heroines who produce and decorate silk cloth or otherwise manipulate items of silk provide important narrative keyholes onto distant economic and cultural geographies across the medieval Mediterranean. the story of silk is an old and familiar one, a tale of mercantile travel and commercial exchange along the broad land mass that connects ancient China to the west, extending eventually to sites on the eastern Mediterranean and along sea routes to India. But in the Middle Ages, silk traveled over routes that linked Egypt and port cities in North Africa to southern Italy and Muslim Spain, while also joining Constantinople and Levantine sites to northern Italian cities. France itself, especially northern France, does not figure centrally or prominently on this economic map of silk transport. It stands at the edge of the extended process of trans-Mediterranean trade that brought silks to the Champagne fairs, largely through the activities of Italian merchants.

And yet if we shift our focus from economic histories that chart the transport and exchange of silk along both Asian and Mediterranean trade routes to medieval literary depictions of silk, a strikingly different picture comes into view. in literary accounts from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, emphasis falls on silk production rather than trade and on female protagonists who make, decorate, and handle silk. As this new story of silk production emerges, so too does a metaphorical geography that includes northern France as an important cultural player in the process. Indeed, a number of Old French literary texts contain portraits of heroines whose silk work charts an imaginative . . .

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