Allegorical Bodies: Power and Gender in Late Medieval France by Daisy Delogu (review)
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Reviewed by
Daisy Delogu. Allegorical Bodies: Power and Gender in Late Medieval France. University of Toronto Press. viii, 280. $75.00

While scholars have often looked at the connection between gender and political power and between gender and allegory in medieval culture, they have rarely examined all three together. Allegorical Bodies seeks to remedy this situation by looking at how the kingdom of France and the University of Paris were represented as female allegorical figures in the crisis years of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, a time when France was ruled by the periodically mad Charles VI, was divided by civil war, and faced the threat of foreign invasion and conquest. After an introduction exploring the differences between metaphor and allegory, Delogu examines how the metaphor of the "body politic" and the allegorical figures of France and the University of Paris were used in the work of a range of writers of the period including Eustache Deschamps, Christine de Pizan, Jean Gerson, Alain Chartier, and Jean Juvénal des Ursins.

The use of allegorical personification was a flexible instrument with which to discuss contemporary affairs. Thus, in Deschamps's work, the suffering kingdom of France was depicted as a widow or an orphan who has lost her husband or father, although Deschamps could also represent France by masculine allegorical figures. By contrast, Christine de Pizan, in her Livre de l'advision Cristine stresses the maternal aspect of Libera, who represents France, who is in need of aid from her neglectful children. France is also personified as a mother in Chartier's Quadrilogue invectif, although here she is angry rather than sorrowful, as she denounces her children, the people of France, for their failure to come to her rescue and, ironically, attacks them for being "womanly" in their lack of courage. Similarly, in Jean Juvénal des Ursins's Audite celi, while the feminine France is portrayed as a learned figure who is able to read Latin and who is familiar with law and history, she also offers a lengthy justification for why women should be excluded from political power. As Delogu says, in such cases, the language of gender, with its in-built assumptions of natural order and hierarchy, provided a familiar conceptual framework with which to make sense of France's plight. Thus, although the kingdom of France was personified by a woman, her portrayal in a range of conventional female roles, including "the courtly beloved, damsel in distress, [and the] noble widow," actually served to "reinforce traditional notions of masculinity." Such allegorizations also provided an alternative focus of loyalty at a time when the French king himself was incapable of acting as a national figurehead. For Delogu, it was the real-life figure of Joan of Arc, rather than fictional allegorical women, who called conventional notions of masculinity and the male-female binary into question.

Although Allegorical Bodies mainly focuses on allegorical representations of France, it also includes a chapter examining Jean Gerson's use of the [End Page 154] organic analogy and of a female allegorical figure to represent the University of Paris. Adopting the idea of the University of Paris as the "daughter of the king," Gerson turns the university into Charles VI's figurative kin, albeit one which was more loyal and selfless than the king's actual family. He cast the king's "daughter" in the role of a disinterested intercessor who could convey the views and complaints of the king's subjects to him and who would help him to rule according to justice and reason.

Although Delogu periodically invokes modern auctores such as Derrida and Butler, her argument does not really need such theoretical buttressing but is instead based on a series of impressive close readings and useful historical contextualizations of her texts. Inevitably, not all of her interpretations will convince all of her readers as, for instance, when she reads Jean Juvénal des Ursins' use of the word efforcier, which "can be used to denote rape," as a suggestion of a metaphorical "sexualized violence perpetrated against the French by the (feminized, sodomite) English." Nevertheless, this is an important scholarly work which is engagingly written and...


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