The Arthuricity of
Marie de France
HE WORKS OF Marie de France have suffered a fate at the hands of critics which is not uncommon when the author is regarded as being not quite of the first rank. They are used to make comparisons. Her fables are compared with the "Romulus" collection and with those of Alexander Neckham, her Purgatoire St. Patriz with versions in Latin, and her Lais, inevitably, with Arthurian romances. Marie has only herself to blame for the last of these critical positions. She constantly uses the word "Bretons" and "li Breton" in her lais, and it was therefore inevitable that the Celticists should ransack her work for analogues. They are not hard to find, but their discovery answers no questions. We must still ask where she found them and how conscious she was of their presence in the Arthurian romances, particularly those of Chrétien de Troyes, for they are the only extant French Arthurian romances (I exclude Wace from the list) which she could have known. The usual explanation of "a common source" is of no value. It does not throw any light on her relation to the romance as opposed to the raw materials. If we wish to compare her work with the romances, we should rather find out how she uses its genre conventions and what we somewhat loosely term the Arthurian ethic. It is to this point that this paper will be devoted and specifically to an examination of the most Arthurian of her lais, Lanval.
Before this more specific study, however, it might be helpful to characterize some of the general features of the lais. Most of them are concerned with sexual love, often with love that results in tragedy--Laüistic, Yonec, Les Deux Amants--or in long separation--Guigemer, Eliduc, Milon,