Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Constructions of Childhood and Youth in Old French Narrative

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Constructions of Childhood and Youth in Old French Narrative

Article excerpt

Phyllis Gaffhey, Constructions of Childhood and Youth in Old French Narrative (Farnham: Ashgate, 201 1). 236 pp. ISBN 978-0-7546-6920-3. £55.00.

In this volume, Phyllis Gaffhey presents a study of childhood and youth in a selection of Old French verse narratives. The book is divided into two parts, the first of which provides the historical context to the literary study of youth and childhood by attempting to identify the medieval child through a survey of the historical record and literary sources. Part II explores representations of childhood and youth in chansons de geste and romance narratives. Gaffney devotes the majority of her book to these two genres and draws her findings from a broad range of texts with youthful protagonists. The final chapter of this section explores the rise of enfances poems from the late twelfth century through to the fourteenth, which take as their subject matter the childhood and youth of wellknown heroes from chansons de geste and romances; retroactively constructing their coming-of-age and prodigious juvenile exploits.

Gaffney admits that there is a certain and necessary amount of slippage between the terms 'child', 'adolescent', and 'youth' when applied to the context of Old French literature. More often than not, the focus is on older, postpubescent youths rather than children. The use of nouns denoting youthfulness, especially in the case of females - 'pucele', 'meschine', 'damoisele' - makes determining age in some cases quite difficult, so the notion of what constitutes youth frequently has to be estimated. Gaffney has found that the numerical ages of young women are rarely mentioned, but young men are often given their age in years. …

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