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Book Review

Page history last edited by Lindsey Bell 11 years, 11 months ago

The Literary Subversions of Medieval Women



Chance, Jane. " The Literary Subversion of Midieval Women. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2007




Those who do not have an in-depth understanding of the criticized texts within The Literary Subversion of Medieval Women, written by Jane Chance, can see it as a great resource, because the texts within the book are fully outlined. The Literary Subversion of Medieval Women is full of background knowledge about the text and the women they are attributed to. It even gives the text in its original language as well as an English translation. The first chapter of the book functions as an introduction in a traditional essay. Though the introduction starts off broad, it slowly narrows itself down in to the focal topic of the book. It is here that the book states:

The Literary Subversion of Medieval Women will define a medieval feminist pattern of literary strategies of subversion in which women writers, resisting the repressions of a patriarchy that demanded a silencing of the female voice, express their alterity within the dominate tradition by rewriting conventions and, thereby, establishing authority as female. (17)

It is Chance’s argument that though women were seemingly marginalized, they were able to find a public voice through writing. This argument is important to come back to after each chapter to see the relation to the mini essay or chapter. In my opinion the book fails in the sense that the reader has to go back to the argument themselves, multiple times, to see why the given information is relevant. This is because, as it is background information, it is not incorporated so as not to recreate the argument in each chapter.


          The bulk of the chapters two, four, and five are the most confusing, to the reader due to the overabundance of information and the lack of a flowing argument from the beginning to end. Within the second chapter the argument stands at “…an explanation of why and how Hrotsvit uses Agnes to link the legends with the plays …”(25). In her presentation of the argument, Chance goes into the legend of St. Agnes, in its multiple forms and how it contrasts with the church. From there Chance goes on to discuss the formation of Hrotsvit’s different plays and St. Agnes’ influence but at the same time she goes off on a tangent about Agnes and Hrotsvit. This causes the flow of the argument to be disrupted from demonstrating the argument of how in using the legends of St. Agnes effect Hrotsvit’s plays to demonstrate female authority.


          Similarly, Chance clearly states her argument within the fifth chapter though once again falling short as she continues through her explanations. The reading is muddled soon after the argument is defined; unlike the bulk of the book, chapter four is the only place where the argument is not bluntly stated. It is instead alluded to within the lengthy explanation of The Mirror and Simple Annihilated Souls and Those Who Only Remain in Will and Desire of Love. Here Chance seems to rest on the philosophical interpretations of Porte’s text. The philosophy and theology of the text is fascinating though the argument is not very clear or obvious.


          In contrast to chapters two, four, and five, I find that chapter three is the most straite forward. It begins with information about the stories about King Arthur and how they are misogynistic, moving on to Marie de France and her story Lai de Lanval. Within Chances explanation of each topic and how they connect is highly fluid from beginning to end. The reader can understand Chance explaining the way in which Marie de France transforms this misogynistic text to one demonstrating the authority of women. Chance does so when she points out the fact that Lanval has become the “antihero, unknighted and dispossessed”(51). She furthers this imagery within her arguments as she references back to Marie de France’s original text when, in the poem, Lanval reveals that the fairy queen is his lover (52). Showing reversal of the damsel in distress, idea it is the man who is in trouble, and in this way Chance shows her argument of how Marie de France demonstrates female authority within her text.


          In all I find that The Literary Subversion of Medieval Women is an asset to those starting out in the literary topic for the background of the women and their works. Though lacking a striate forward argument, it is full of factual information and criticisms. By referencing the introduction of the book, we come to see that through the texts women altered voice though their writing. They resist a male-dominating literary tradition by rewriting well-known stereotypes and story arcs.  I did not grasp how the female established authority by altering conventions in any chapter but the third on Marie de Frances piece Lai de Lanval, encompassing the concept of feminizing a knight through his beauty and promise to a lover. Though present within the other chapters, the argument is muddled into the over dominated presence of background information. Though the extra information is useful it is also highly distracting and aggravating for readers, taking the focus off of the argument and onto extra information without a seeming purpose.



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