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Ravishing Maidens

Writing Rape in Medieval French Literature and Law

By Kathryn Gravdal

Publication Year: 1991

In this study of sexual violence and rape in French medieval literature and law, Kathryn Gravdal examines an array of famous works never before analyzed in connection with sexual violence. Gravdal demonstrates the variety of techniques through which medieval discourse made rape acceptable: sometimes through humor and aestheticization, sometimes through the use of social and political themes, but especially through the romanticism of rape scenes.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: New Cultural Studies


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pp. ix-x

I wish to thank the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as the Columbia University Council for Research in the Humanities for the liberal grants that afforded me the time to complete this book. To Jonathan Z. Pallet of the Columbia Office of Projects and Grants, I owe an inordinate debt of thanks for his unstinting efforts on behalf of this project and ...

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Introduction: The Archeology of Rape in Medieval Literature and Law

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pp. 1-20

Between the image of a Middle Ages in which men are so brutal they see nothing wrong with sexual violence and that of a Middle Ages dominated by powerful women who enjoy sexual freedom, this book traces the contours of something less sensational, perhaps less appealing, but more complex. It studies the naturalization of the subordination of women in medieval French culture by examining representations of rape in different discursive genres, both literary and legal. ...

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1. Plotting Rape in the Female Saints' Lives

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pp. 21-41

The specifically Christian transformation of sexual difference into subordination occurs in slow and complicated patterns. Out of the early Christian rejection of corporal experience comes a new asceticism that grounds itself in an ideological subordination of women and a misogynist construction of femininity.1 Pauline doctrine on sexuality informs the patristic theology that legitimizes the gradual exclusion of women from ecclesiastic ...

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2. The Poetics of Rape Law: Chr

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pp. 42-71

Our close reading of female sexuality and male brutality in Wace's Vie de Sainte Marguerite, disclosed there gestures belonging to the power struggle behind "romantic love." Wace, we know, was also the first writer of vernacular Arthurian romance. The very name of Arthurian romance conjures up images of valor, courtliness, and gentility; we hardly associate courtly ...

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3. Replaying Rape: Feudal Law on Trial in Le Roman de Renart

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pp. 72-103

The archeology of feudal rape law discloses itself in a group of twelfth- and thirteenth-century Old French texts entitled Le Roman de Renart, a cycle of narratives in which the characters are humanized animals.1 The genre draws its sources from universal folklore. In the French medieval avatar, the hero is the trickster fox Renart. Composed between approximately 1171 and 1250, the collection is made up of elements, of varying length and ...

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4. The Game of Rape: Sexual Violence and Social Class in the Pastourelle

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pp. 104-121

Just as the trial scenes in Le Roman de Renart create an imaginary place in which rape can become comic, so too does the medieval pastourelle constitute a discursive space in which one can laugh at the spectacle of rape. The pastourelle further resembles the branches of the Renart discussed in the previous chapter in that its levity does not preclude a degree of seriousness. ...

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5. The Complicity of Law and Literature

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pp. 122-140

Old French literature and medieval law offer conflicting images of sexual behavior. We can meaningfully contrast constructions of sexual practices in literature to other cultural representations, such as those that describe and define criminal sexuality. This chapter will examine two nonliterary manifestations of the discursive practice of rape: the texts of medieval law, both canon and civil, which reveal the judicial norm, and the records of ...

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pp. 141-144

The preceding chapters form a cultural archeology in which we can reposition the idealization of the feminine that emerges from French medieval courtly literature. When we contextualize the construction of the feminine in courtly love discourse among other contemporary discourses, their complicity in naturalizing what seems to have been the common practice of violence against women is revealed. ...


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pp. 145-175


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pp. 177-187


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pp. 189-192

E-ISBN-13: 9780812200331
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812213157

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 1991

Series Title: New Cultural Studies
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OCLC Number: 44963651
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Ravishing Maidens

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Subject Headings

  • Law, Medieval.
  • French literature -- To 1500 -- History and criticism.
  • Women -- Crimes against -- France -- History -- To 1500.
  • Women and literature -- France -- History -- To 1500.
  • Rape in literature.
  • France -- Social conditions -- 987-1515.
  • Sex crimes in literature.
  • Rape victims in literature.
  • Rape -- France -- History -- To 1500.
  • Women -- France -- History -- Middle Ages, 500-1500.
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