Jean de Saintré: A Late Medieval Education in Love and Chivalry

Jean de Saintré: A Late Medieval Education in Love and Chivalry

Jean de Saintré: A Late Medieval Education in Love and Chivalry

Jean de Saintré: A Late Medieval Education in Love and Chivalry

Synopsis

Written in 1456 and purporting to be the biography of the actual fourteenth-century knight of its title, Jean de Saintré has been called the first modern novel in French and one of the first historical novels in any language. Taken in hand at the age of thirteen by an older and much more experienced lady, Madame des Belles Cousines, the youth grows into an accomplished knight, winning numerous tournaments and even leading a crusade against the infidels for the love of Madame. When he reaches maturity, Jean starts to rebel against Madame's domination by seeking out chivalric adventures on his own. She storms off to her country estates and takes up with the burly abbot of a nearby monastery. The text moves into darker and uncourtly territory when Jean discovers their liaison and lashes out to avenge his lost love and honor, ruining Madame's reputation in the process.

Composed in the waning years of chivalry and at the threshold of the print revolution, Jean de Saintré incorporates disquisitions on sin and virtue, advice on hygiene and fashion, as well as lengthy set pieces of chivalric combat. Antoine de La Sale, who was, by turns, a page, a royal tutor, a soldier, and a judge at tournaments, embellished his text with wide-ranging insights into chivalric ideology, combat techniques, heraldry and warfare, and the moral training of a young knight. This superb translation--the first in nearly a hundred years--contextualizes the story with a rich introduction and a glossary and is suitable for scholars, students, and general readers alike. An encyclopedic compilation of medieval culture and a window into the lost world of chivalry, Jean de Saintré is a touchstone for both the late Middle Ages and the emergence of the modern novel.

Excerpt

Antoine de La Sale’s Le Petit Jehan de Saintré, or Jean de Saintré is one of the most important works of prose fiction of the later Middle Ages. It has been hailed as one of the first historical novels for its account of what purports to be the chivalric biography of a historical knight, the fourteenth-century Jean of Saintré (1320–68), who was seneschal of Anjou and Maine. But, as we shall see, La Sale’s account of the glorious exploits of a knight who lived a hundred years prior to the book’s composition bears often only a tenuous relationship to historical events: the author’s agenda extends well beyond providing an accurate account of the past. Written in the last days of the flowering of chivalry, poised on the threshold of the print revolution, Saintré can also be rightly considered one of the last great medieval compilations. Among the many materials incorporated within the fictional love story that will be described below, Saintré includes a treatise on the seven deadly sins; tracts on the Beatitudes and the seven virtues; advice about personal grooming; numerous detailed descriptions of clothing and armor; lengthy set pieces recounting ceremonial tournaments and other combats; as well as a conclusion strongly evocative of a fabliau. This fascinating blend of sacred and profane, fictional and historical, serious and comic modes has long intrigued critics and has earned Saintré a place in the French canon as a precursor to Rabelais, Madame de La Fayette, and Laclos.

Written in 1456 for Jean, Duke of Calabria, son of King René of Anjou, Jean de Saintré has long been prized for its accounts of chivalric exploits, heraldic blazons, and lavish costumes and for its sharp observation of social relations in a pseudo-historical court. the romance has also delighted readers with its seeming upending of courtly conventions in the last part of the romance, when a lusty monk cavorts with the earnest young knight’s lady love and makes a laughingstock of self-proclaimed chivalric heroes, before . . .

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