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Creole Medievalism

Colonial France and Joseph Bédier’s Middle Ages

Michelle R. Warren

Publication Year: 2011

Joseph Bédier (1864-1938) was one of the most famous scholars of his day. He held prestigious posts and lectured throughout Europe and the United States, an activity unusual for an academic of his time. A scholar of the French Middle Ages, he translated Tristan and Isolde as well as France's national epic, The Song of Roland. Bédier was publicly committed to French hegemony, yet he hailed from a culture that belied this ideal-the island of Réunion in the southern Indian Ocean.

In Creole Medievalism, Michelle Warren demonstrates that Bédier's relationship to this multicultural and economically peripheral colony motivates his nationalism in complex ways. Simultaneously proud of his French heritage and nostalgic for the island, Bédier defends French sovereignty based on an ambivalent resistance to his creole culture. Warren shows that in the early twentieth century, influential intellectuals from Réunion helped define the new genre of the "colonial novel," adopting a pro-colonial spirit that shaped both medieval and Francophone studies. Probing the work of a once famous but little understood cultural figure, Creole Medievalism illustrates how postcolonial France and Réunion continue to grapple with histories too varied to meet expectations of national unity.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

This book began with a seemingly small question: why did Joseph Bédier dedicate his edition of the Chanson de Roland to an island named Bourbon? The search for answers led me far afield in more ways than one, and I have been fortunate to benefit from the generosity and expertise of numerous friends, colleagues, strangers, librarians, and archivists. ...

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Introduction: Joseph Bédier and the Imperial Nation

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pp. xi-xxxii

“C’est comme si j’arrivais du Moyen Age et c’est pareil pour tous les autres Réunionnais, on est sauvages, on ne sait pas vivre.” [It’s like I came from the Middle Ages, and it’s the same for all the other Réunionnais, we are savages, we don’t know how to live.] ...

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1. Roncevaux and Réunion

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pp. 1-25

Assertions of ancient origins have long served to legitimize kingdoms, nations, and other collectivities. Such assertions support desires for seamless historical continuity and homogeneous culture. In Europe, prior to the nineteenth century, ancient Rome served as the most frequent reference point for claims of cultural prestige. ...

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2. Medieval and Colonial Attractions

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pp. 26-75

The educational policies that made Roland central to republican pedagogy soon popularized epic nationalism, for they reached every child who attended school. These same children also learned of France’s obligations to advance civilization overseas. ...

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3. Between Paris and Saint-Denis

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pp. 76-116

Throughout the Third Republic, colonialism and medievalism together shaped images of France as an ancient imperial nation. Bédier’s popular scholarship, especially in the 1920s and 1930s, actively elaborated on this image, which was repeatedly appropriated by political interests from the far left to the far right. ...

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4. Island Philology

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pp. 117-163

Bédier’s creole biography suggests that he turned to the Middle Ages partly in response to the disruptive effects of migration. His scholarship, in turn, refers explicitly to creole memories. As he brings the colonial and the medieval into dialogue, using each to explain the other, he weds exile to philology: ...

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5. A Creole Epic

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pp. 164-193

The Oxford Roland had monumental importance for French literary politics during the Third Republic. For decades and in numerous editions, it provided genial images of national heroism and imperial ambition. For Bédier, these images were also creole: in Saint-Denis, Roland portrayed the chivalric ideals and racial differences that structured colonial culture. ...

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6. Postcolonial Itineraries

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pp. 194-221

Réunion clearly played important roles in Bédier’s thinking about the Middle Ages, just as an idealized vision of the Middle Ages shaped his youthful experiences on Réunion. Today, Réunionnais culture and French medieval studies both seem far removed from the terms of Bédier’s creole medievalism. ...

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Afterword: Medieval Debris

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pp. 222-234

My narrative of Bédier’s creole Middle Ages has emerged from the traditional methods of philology, turned against the security of origins. Placing colonial history in relation to medieval studies during the Third Republic, I have sought to establish an archive of “local knowledge” that encompasses multiple places and times simultaneously. ...


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pp. 235-306


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pp. 307-360


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pp. 361-380

E-ISBN-13: 9780816675418
E-ISBN-10: 0816675414
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816665266

Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2011