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  • Le Présent de Marie: lecture des ‘Lais’ de Marie de France par Milena Mikhaïlova-Makarius
  • Tamara Bentley Caudill
Le Présent de Marie: lecture des ‘Lais’ de Marie de France. Deuxième édition remaniée. Par Milena Mikhaïlova-Makarius. (Courant critique, 83.) Genève: Droz, 2018. 168 pp.

In the two decades since Milena Mikhaïlova-Makarius’s thesis was initially published (Paris: Diderot éditeur, 1996), Marie de France studies have flourished. New editions, new translations, and new scholarship attract new readers; and it is unsurprising that an author would want to revisit and revise earlier readings. Mikhaïlova-Makarius’s central argument remains unchanged. In the Prologue to the lays, Marie’s stated project is to collect Breton lays and then present them to the king. Mikhaïlova-Makarius proposes that these dual acts of ‘jointure’ and ‘don’ (p. 14) are a unifying feature of the corpus; and in a series of twelve close readings, she analyses the related themes of uniting, dividing, giving, forgiving, sterility, fecundity, naming, and remembering, as they occur in each of the twelve canonical lays of Marie de France. Comparison with the first edition shows several tactile and visual improvements. The new, slim volume is smaller in format and about half the page count. Standard type, smaller margins, and tighter paragraph spacing reduce the negative space and improve the reading experience. Frequent use of italics for emphasis, prevalent in the first edition, have thankfully been abandoned. Endnotes have been converted to footnotes, and quotation marks have been replaced with guillemets. Most strikingly, the author has chosen not to republish Roger Dragonetti’s lengthy Introduction, ‘Une fleur dans l’oreille’: though a lovely essay in its own right, its removal shortens the text considerably. More importantly, it allows the reader to enter immediately into Mikhaïlova-Makarius’s treatment of Marie. As a close reader, Mikhaïlova-Makarius shines. Although her insistence on the giving motif can be constraining, her analyses are generally rich, observant, and thought-provoking. Moreover, her prose is delightful. In conjunction with the theme of giving, for example, she plays with don/pardon/abandon over the course of multiple lays. Thus, form follows function, as her readings become themselves a pleasure to read. The best contributions are perhaps the initial essays on Guigemar and Yonec, in which the author considers space and time, desire and memory. Most sections are self-contained, with limited references to other lays, making them therefore well suited for focused student reading assignments. As a second edition, some portions remain entirely unchanged, others have been reworded for flow or clarity, while still others have been completely rewritten. The modern French translations of the lays are now those of Nathalie Koble and Mireille Séguy (Lais bretons, xiie–xiiie siècles: Marie de France et ses contemporains (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2018 (1st edn 2011)). As expected from a lecture, Mikhaïlova-Makarius does not over-engage the critics. In spite of the welcome addition of a bibliography, her citations have not been significantly updated from the first edition. I noted only one footnote with a source published after 1996, which is unfortunate given the many excellent articles and monographs that have since been published. Nevertheless, Mikhaïlova-Makarius’s study remains an important contribution to Marie de France studies, focusing on a particular aspect of the General Prologue and its manifestation across the lays. With its numerous improvements, this second edition certainly merits a second look. [End Page 617]

Tamara Bentley Caudill
Jacksonville University


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