Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Courtly Love Undressed: Reading through Clothes in Medieval French Culture

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Courtly Love Undressed: Reading through Clothes in Medieval French Culture

Article excerpt

E. Jane Burns, Courtly Love Undressed: Reading through Clothes in Medieval French Culture, The Penn Middle Ages Series (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002). 326 pp. ISBN 0-8122-3671-8. £35.00/149.95.

In Courtly Love Undressed, E. Jane Burns builds on her previous study of feminine representation in terms of body and language (Bodytalk: When Women Speak in Old French Literature) to produce a work that focuses on the importance of clothes, jewellery, and dress in the definition of social and gender categories in medieval French literature. Burns argues that while forms of dress may be used to construct and enforce these categories, dressing and, more particularly, cross-dressing can also undercut and destabilize given norms. The study covers a range of lyric and romance texts, with reference to didactic literature and vernacular sermons.

In place of 'reading through the body' Burns deploys the strategy of 'reading through clothes'. Courtly attire is redefined not simply as a means of expressing status and revealing gender, but as a representation of the social, cultural, and geographical body. The courtly body becomes a 'sartorial body', where clothing and dress arc integral to the definition and delimiting of the body as a cultural product. Reading for the sartorial body in the literary text opens up the interpretation of the body as fixed within a particular ideological frame - that of the courtly, gendered, western body. …

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