Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Aristocratic Life in Medieval France: The Romances of Jean Renart and Gerbert De Montreuil 1190-1230

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Aristocratic Life in Medieval France: The Romances of Jean Renart and Gerbert De Montreuil 1190-1230

Article excerpt

John W. Baldwin, Aristocratic Life in Medieval France: The Romances of Jean Renart and Gerbert de Montreuil 1190-1230 (Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000). xx +360 pp. ISBN 0-8018-6188-8. L38.50.

In his study of two thirteenth-century romancers, John Baldwin proposes 'unabashedly to read vernacular literary texts as historical sources', having 'succumbed to the temptation of trying to understand how this literature both addressed and revealed the appetites of its aristocratic audience' (pp. xiv-xv). Two romances by each poet are examined: Jean Renart's Escoufle and Roman de la Rose, and Gerbert de Montreuil's Roman de la Violette and Continuation of the Conte du Graal. Baldwin's readings focus upon details peripheral to the narrative which constitute what Barthes had termed effets de reel. The extent to which these effets are self-authenticating, that is, free from narrative, rhetorical, or aesthetic function, determines the value they may have as witnesses of the social milieu in and for which the romances were composed. Baldwin examines five principal areas, chivalric prowess, romance economics, women and love, festivities and religion; in each case a constant cross-reference is maintained between features derived from the romances and the evidence of 'traditional' historical sources represented by a group of contemporary theologians from the cathedral school of Notre Dame in Paris.

By far the most informative of these chapters, for both the historian and the literary critic, is the last, devoted to aristocratic religion; Baldwin's breadth of knowledge is brought to bear to illuminate, in particular, the significance of changes in contemporary attitudes to and practice surrounding ordeals and penance for readings of both jean and Gerbert. It is here that the mediation he proposes between his return to a historicized, positivist reading, in contrast to more recent poststructuralist trends, achieves its greatest measure of success. …

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