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Voices, 'Realities' and Narrative Style in the Anonymous chansons de toile Helen Dell In the chansonniers of the trouveres of twelfth- and thirteenth-century Northern France are many songs wholly or partly in the woman's voice, the chansons de femme, defined by Doris Earnshaw as any song which employs the female voice 'in all or part of its lines'.' This definition has the advantage of opening up the debate to include the woman's voice wherever it occurs. This is the sense in which I a m using it here. The term includes numerous genres, some of them femalevoiced lyric monologues and debates, others lyrico-narrative songs of different kinds. H o w do w e see these 'women' of woman's song? Are they simply 'men singing in drag . . . men speaking for women, that is to say, "in their place'"? This is the question asked by E. Jane B u m s and others. W h o speaks when a woman speaks, particularly when her words are written for her by a man? What status do w e accord to her and to her words? H o w 'real' can she be considered to be and what is the nature of her 'reality'? What kind of power can her words carry and whose power is it? 1 Doris Earnshaw, The Female Voice in Medieval Romance Lyric (New York: P. 1988), p. 3. 2 E. Jane Bums and others, 'Feminism and Old French Studies: Une bele disjointure Medievalism and the Modernist Temper: On the Discipline ofMedieval Studies ( Stanford University Press, 1996), p. 240. 18 Helen Dell Doris Earnshaw, in The Female Voice in Medieval Romance Lyric, offers the suggestion that the woman's voice in female-voiced Romance lyric is employed by male poets to act as a foil to the dominant male voice of trouvere song, allowing expression to 'social values not generally permitted or approved'. By projecting a female persona to speak words of defiance, male authors can let off steam while escaping responsibility. It is an empty transgression since i t is only a w o m a n who speaks. According to Earnshaw, 'her expression lacks potency because it is the voice of the "other", not the generic "self". Women's words, like the antics of clowns, leave no indelible trace. Nothing to trouble the dominant paradigm here. I would like to test Eamshaw's contention in relation to a group of 21 chansons defemme (in Earnshaw's sense) known as the chansons de toile. The term suggests a sewing song, and a character in Jean Renart's Roman de la Rose says of them: Biauz filz ce fu ca enarriers Que les dames et les roines Soloient fere lor cortines et chanter les chancons distoire Fair son, it was long ago that ladies and queens used to make their hangings and sing chansons d 'histoire. Chanson d'histoire is another term for chansons de toile. Five of the 21 ch de toile are attributed to Audefroi le Batard, and these are quite different in many respects from the other 16. It is the 16 anonymous songs that I a m concerned with here, especially the nine in the Chansonnier Francais de Saint-Germain3 Earnshaw, p. 13. 4 Earnshaw, p. 126. 5 I have followed Michel Zink's edition of the songs, Les Chansons de Toile (Paris: Champion, 1978), and have identified them by his numbering system. The translations are mine. 6 Jean Renart, The Romance ofthe Rose or ofGuillaume de Dole = Roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole, trans. Regina Psaki (New York: Garland Publishing 19951 nn 54-55. Her translation. 6 ' hW ' 7 Zink, nos. 10-14. Voices, 'Realities'and Narrative Style in the Anonymous chansons de toile 1 des-Pres. In the case of these and other anonymous chansons de femme it may be safe to assume that the majority were written by men, although of course one can never be certain. As Carol Jane Nappholz remarks: 'To date w e have no way ofproving conclusively whether an anonymous text was male-authored or female9 authored.' There is, however, only one song attributed to a w o m a n...


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