Courtly Love Undressed
Reading Through Clothes in Medieval French Culture
E. Jane Burns
"Courtly Love Undressed is unique in its extended interrogation of the ways rich clothing and luxury possessions of courtly characters may be seen to subvert and rewrite the very hierarchies and distinctions they would seem to promote. The book offers something entirely new to medieval cultural and literary studies: a materialist analysis of the fantasy of courtly love."—Peggy McCracken, University of Michigan
"Burns enables us to see, and to be surprised totally by, what the texts themselves have to say."—Sharon Farmer, University of California, Santa Barbara.
"Burns argues persuasively that fabric and clothing can create representations of both gender and status in selected French courtly texts. . . . While grounded in solid readings of medieval texts, Burns's book also reflects and adds to recent feminist rethinking of clothing's capacity to empower women."—Speculum
"This study of material culture provides a fresh picture of courtly love. . . . Burns gives true life to French literature of the high Middle Ages and provides careful readings of a variety of texts."—Choice
"An invigorating reassessment of the French literature of the High Middle Ages through the discourse of the dress and luxury adornments of court men and women. . . . The book sets very ambitious goals and accomplishes them with very dense readings, which vacillate from deceptively simple and clear analysis of twelfth- and thirteenth-century texts, to a much more profound understanding of those metaphors in a larger sociological context."—Comitatus
"Burns evinces a clear mastery of the subtleties of the array of primary texts she uses. . . . Her bibliography of both primary and secondary sources is substantial and well-rounded. Though history plays a part in her readings, her focus is squarely on the literary text. Her close readings are impressive in their analyses and command of the polyvalence of medieval vernacular."—Arthuriana
Clothing was used in the Middle Ages to mark religious, military, and chivalric orders, lepers, and prostitutes. The ostentatious display of luxury dress more specifically served as a means of self-definition for members of the ruling elite and the courtly lovers among them. In Courtly Love Undressed, E. Jane Burns unfolds the rich display of costly garments worn by amorous partners in literary texts and other cultural documents in the French High Middle Ages.
Burns "reads through clothes" in lyric, romance, and didactic literary works, vernacular sermons, and sumptuary laws to show how courtly attire is used to negotiate desire, sexuality, and symbolic space as well as social class. Reading through clothes reveals that the expression of female desire, so often effaced in courtly lyric and romance, can be registered in the poetic deployment of fabric and adornment, and that gender is often configured along a sartorial continuum, rather than in terms of naturally derived categories of woman and man. The symbolic identification of the court itself as a hybrid crossing place between Europe and the East also emerges through Burns's reading of literary allusions to the trade, travel, and pilgrimage that brought luxury cloth to France.
E. Jane Burns is L. M. Slifkin Distinguished Term Professor and Chair of the Curriculum in Women's Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is author of Bodytalk: When Women Speak in Old French Literature, also available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.