Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Material Love: Manuscript Culture in Prison Amoureuse and Carcel De Amor

Academic journal article Philological Quarterly

Material Love: Manuscript Culture in Prison Amoureuse and Carcel De Amor

Article excerpt

IN CRITICISM, THE CREATION AND CIRCULATION of manuscript text is not typically associated with love. Instead, material text is linked to intellectual endeavors, such as reading and commentary or to destructive uses, (1) including the well-known practice from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries of utilizing leaves or pieces of leaves for what Anthony Wood has called "servile uses": (2) as binding material and as folders, bags, and material to give shape and stiffness to items of apparel like hats. Leaves and partial leaves were recycled and employed as pastedowns, reinforcing strips, pasteboard pads, flyleaves, and wrappers for other books. In other cases, medieval, early modern, and modern users of material text put it to spiritual or talismanic uses. These purposes included carrying special leaves on the person and employing it in accordance with religious practices like the mezuzah or genizah (literally, to hide, to put away), a repository that held illegible, obsolete, or fragmentary Hebrew books and documents of religious and sometimes nonreligious content. Religious texts could take on magical value for their users, whether they actually read them or not. (3) As Ana Gomez-Bravo has noted in the legal context, books were sworn upon and their materiality was afforded a value equal to their contents. (4) Material support endowed text with the robustness to be treated roughly and passed around, to serve as playthings, or to be loved, sometimes to death. (5)

This study examines the use of manuscript text in two medieval literary portrayals of love relationships in which male protagonists are trapped in "prisons of love." The works were written approximately a century apart: Jean Froissart's fourth and penultimate dit (narrative poem), the Prison amoureuse (1372-72), hereafter Prison, and Diego de San Pedro's (ca. 1437-ca. 1498) Carcel de amor (Carcel below). (6) Prison and Carcel treat love and the trauma of wooing, waiting, and rejection either as something having been or still being experienced, or as a topos in written and oral communication. Both have an epistolary structure in which an intimate relationship between a man and a woman or between two male friends, each in love with his respective lady, is encouraged or stymied through letters coordinated by or exchanged between the two men, and occasionally between the lover and the beloved. In the French case, the letters celebrate love and successfully facilitate the love quest of at least one of the lovesick men and a friendship between the two male writing companions, the poet-narrator Flos and his patron and correspondent Rose. In the Spanish case, however, the letters end up defaming the beloved Laureola, killing the lover Leriano, and greatly disappointing his male companion, the Auctor.

Beyond readily apparent thematic parallels and shared narrative elements, Prison and Carcel have two important points of contact that also serve as a means to examine their unique aspects. The first is the importance of male companionship in consoling the imprisoned lover; the second is that both works are comprised of the exchange of manuscript text and comment on the making, or rather the dissolution, of the very romances. In both romances, the production of handwritten documents is a physical means for an ailing male lover and a male companion to cope with the absence of the beloved. While in the Spanish romance the male relationship and letters are unsuccessful in bringing about a positive connection with the lady--thus underscoring the beloved's strength and the ineffectiveness of men--the writing and relationship between the male protagonists in the French case is positive and literally constructive, while women serve primarily as an excuse for literary exchanges between men. Prison and Carcel both present a belief that material text can effect change even when its owners or other associated parties are not present. Love and sentiment, both positive and negative, are the reasons for the very existence of manuscript text in Prison and Carcel. …

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