Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

What Every Goodwoman Wants: The Parameters of Desire in le Menagier De Paris / the Goodman of Paris

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

What Every Goodwoman Wants: The Parameters of Desire in le Menagier De Paris / the Goodman of Paris

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Using the example of the l4th century household book Le menagier de Paris written by an old man for his teenaged wife, this essay explores how the desires of late-medieval women might have been articulated, manipulated and created by the paradigms they read about in popular conduct/courtesy/advice books, manuals usually written by men for an audience of women. I probe what indoctrination the author/narrator provides for the young wife's moral and domestic life in his bourgeous medieval Parisian household, what anecdotes about women are imbedded in the course of the narrative for her edification, and why it all matters for the medieval audience. The essay demonstrates how what women are to desire in order to be desirable to men is shaped in Le menagier. Manners, morals, and housekeeping details are equated and integrated in this book in complex ways. I want to interrogate aspects of the sort of cultural work a text such as Le menagier might perform. What are the consequences for medieval women (and modem women ), for medieval men, for medieval literary expressions, for the depictions of gender relations -- of an authorized conduct for women, created by men?

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"Was there ever any domination which did not appear natural to those who possessed it?"

(MILL: 9)

"Men do not want solely the obedience of women, they want their sentiments. All men except the most brutish, desire to have in the woman most nearly connected with them, not a forced slave, but a willing one, not a slave merely, but a favorite. They have therefore put everything in practice to enslave their minds..."

(MILL: 12)

"In the present day, power holds a smoother language, and whomsoever it oppresses, always pretends to do so for their own good."

(MILL: 41)

"... they [techniques of discipline] are a series of mechanisms for unbalancing power relations definitively and everywhere; hence the persistence in regarding them as the humble, but concrete form of every morality, whereas they are a set of physico-political techniques."

(Michel Foucault 1995: 223)

This essay explores how the desires of late-medieval women might have been manipulated and constructed by the paradigms articulated for them in popular conduct/courtesy/advice books, manuals usually written by men for an audience of women. (1) One such conduct book, titled in its French edition Le menagier de Paris, known in its only English version inexactly as The goodman of Paris, but more correctly translated as The book of housekeeping of Paris, is a large household compendium purportedly compiled between 1392-94 by a well-connected 60-ish Frenchman of means, an official, but not an aristocrat, for the edification of his 15 year-old wife. It comprises an instruction manual on the duties and qualities of a good wife of her station in life. Whether or not we have here a fictionalized narration of a literary author, or a sincere didactic work from an actual husband (and we can't know), Le menagier was read and copied by a sizeable late-medieval audience. I hope to point out what woman's desire was educated to be in this bourgeois Parisian book, and concomitantly what men were led to desire in women, by investigating the conduct such a book as Le menagier holds up for societal approval and the manner in which the author expresses his instructions. The discourse of the book shapes what women should desire in order to be desirable to men. I want to probe the indoctrination the narrator provides for the moral and domestic life in his household, what anecdotes about women are imbedded in the course of the narrative for the instruction of women, and what the work's literary design tells us about the narrative voice and its author and audience. Fitting any discussion of this huge dirigible of a book into the small space of this paper is problematic at best, and will necessitate providing only a partial reading of a work that deserves much more analysis. …

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