Contemporary feminist readers have argued that old French literary representations of women—from the excessively beautiful lady of courtly romance to the lascivious shrew of fabliau and farce—are the products of misogynous male imagination and fantasy.
In Bodytalk, E. Jane Burns contends that female protagonists in medieval texts authored by men can be heard to talk back against the stereotyped and codified roles that their fictive anatomy is designed to convey. She investigates key moments in which the words of these medieval "women" dissent from and significantly restructure the conceptions of female sexuality, wifely obedience, courtly love, and adultery that are so often used to define and delimit femininity in the French Middle Ages. Burns provides the feminist reader of medieval literature with a strategy for reinterpreting the female body in its stereotyped, fetishized, and fantasized for. Arguing that the gendered body mattters in our reading of female protagonists, she shows how women characters can rewrite, through their attributed speech, the narratives that define and contain them.
Bodytalk is an incisive, polemical, sophisticated, and often witty book about the gender issues that are raised by the very presence of female characters in male-authored texts. It brings recent feminist theory to bear upon the discussion of medieval texts, and contributes significantly to current feminist criticism by offering historically specific accounts of some of the founding moments of western conceptions of love, desire, and sexuality.
A volume in the New Cultural Studies series.
E. Jane Burns is Professor of French in the Department of Romance Languages at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is author of "This Prick Which Is Not One" in Feminist Approaches to the Body in Medieval Literature, edited by Linda Lomperis and Sarah Stanbury (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), and of Arthurian Fictions: Rereading the Vulgate Cycle.