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  • The Gendered Ecology of Travel:De- and Re-territorialization in the T Version of La Vie de sainte Marie l'Égyptienne
  • Monica Antoinette Ehrlich (bio)

In medieval French literature, saints are among the most frequent travelers, and their voyages raise questions about the role ecology plays in shaping one's gendered identity. Saints like Gilles, Brendan, Louis, Nicholas, Alexis, Paule, Marie-Madeleine, Marie l'Égyptienne, and others take to the sea for various reasons: pilgrimage, evangelization, penitence, and—most interestingly—self-transformation.1 Several of these saints struggle in their early lives as they are expected to adhere to gender norms which impede them from pursing their personal desires, so they flee to new places where they have more freedom to live as they see fit. These new locations leave their mark on the saints who transform their identities by changing their relationship to their environments. When the Athenian prince Gilles refuses to marry, his barons tell him, "va tei en un buissun tapir/e deven moigne en un muster" ("go hide yourself in a thicket and become a monk in a monastery"; my trans.; Guillaume de Berneville ll. 328-29). If he is unwilling to abide by his society's gender norms, his only option is to abandon his inheritance and become a hermit. This scene of semi-forced exile demonstrates how medieval French hagiography posits the hermitage as a wild space exempt from societal norms.

For female saints, the gendered implications of exile are all the more pertinent. Medieval women underwent deeper scrutiny in their travels since they were more at risk for rape and violence [End Page 21] (Webb 82). Women travelled much less frequently than did their male counterparts, but pilgrimage granted them some freedom of movement (78). Travelers frequently had to abandon all earthly ties, including family, and this personal sacrifice was often dramatized by invoking the environment. In Paule, a wealthy Roman widow leaves behind several children to embark on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The physical separation of this mother from her children is reflected in topographical descriptions; the widening gulf between the shoreline, populated by her children who wail like animals ("braient" l. 285), and the boat on the sea, pregnant with future possibilities for self-transformation and change, represents the emotional void left in the children's lives following their mother's departure (Paule ll. 278-324).

The anonymous late-twelfth-century T version of La Vie de sainte Marie l'Égyptienne likewise demonstrates the gendered implications of saintly travel, but with a more nuanced attention to the role ecology plays in identity formation and change.2 Criticism of Marie's Life focuses on her gender and sexuality (Gaunt, Howie, Burgwinkle, Miller, Robertson and Scheil), on her relationship to family and community and kinship structures (Campbell), on her physical and spiritual transformation (Robertson, Scheil and Tilliette), on her liminal status between various worlds and identity categories (Campbell, Howie, Miller and Scheil), and on her relationship to her environment (Howie, Miller and Scheil). While these critics have noticed Marie's transformation and her deep connection to her natural milieu, they have not fully articulated the profound role that environment plays in shaping her gendered identity. Using Gilles Deleuze's and Félix Guattari's concepts of de- and re-territorialization, I will demonstrate here how Marie's travels allow her to uproot herself from and root herself within ever-changing environments which, I argue, alter her relationship to the societies and landscapes that surround her and redefine her gendered identity.

In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari propose a new way of seeing the environment as porous, interconnected, and in flux. They show that life is dependent upon a complex mapping (12) of relations (53-54) between all forms of matter, all the way down to the molecular level. Bumble bees help flowers to reproduce [End Page 22] by spreading pollen, for example. Deleuze and Guattari use the term 'rhizome' to refer to this new perception of matter and being as symbiotic and mutually dependent. Whereas in the past, we have tended to perceive life in terms of arboreal relations—that is as sexual relations that can be mapped in family...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2166-5486
Print ISSN
1077-825x
Pages
pp. 21-32
Launched on MUSE
2018-05-10
Open Access
No
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