I was going to make posts, I swear

But I am at present enjoying my first experience of Marking Purgatory, which came quick on the heels of chapter-writing purgatory.

Shall perhaps be functional again in a week or so.


Oooh shiny! NZ researcher discovers early edition of Chaucer

Courtesy of Lawrence Warner, it has come to my attention that Dr Simone Celine Marshall, from the University of Otago, has unearthed an 1807 edition of the poetical works of Geoffrey Chaucer. Exciting news for anyone with an interest in 19th-century medievalism or the transmission and editorial history of Chaucer’s works.

Robert Curthose and the chamberpot incident, or, how a dunny can changed history

[personal profile] gominokouhai explains why it is inadvisable to revolt against a man known as both “The Conqueror” and “The Bastard”:

Robert Curthose, eldest son of William the Conqueror (known as “William the Bastard” before 1066), “instigated his first insurrection against his father” in 1077, aged about 24, when his younger brothers emptied a chamberpot over his head. Apparently they’d grown bored of playing at dice and decided that this would be a go[o]d way to liven up a dull afternoon. Yeah, and you laugh at what Harry gets up to in the tabloids these days.

Angry that William failed to punish his brothers sufficiently, Robert rode forth the next day and attempted to capture the castle at Rouen. Like you do.

The rest of the sad tale of Robert Curthose and the chamberpot incident can be found here.

Also, if anyone’s using Dreamwidth (I am!), the aforementioned [personal profile] gominokouhai made me a DW syndicated feed of the Naked Philologist. Shiny! You can also find me at [personal profile] highlyeccentric instead of my old LJ, if you have any deep investment in watching me babble about Weird Things I Saw on the Internet and Strange Methods of Cleaning Things Which My Housemate and I Have Invented.

Bad medieval movie ahoy!

Russel Brand to star in comedy set in 14th century. Apparently he’s playing a (historical) mercenary named John Haskwood.

Nifty things post: BiblioLife

Having discovered that the USyd library either doesn’t have a copy of Chrétien’s Philomena, or haven’t entered it into the catalogue database1, I recently embarked upon a quest to buy Cornelius de Boer’s 1909 edition of same.

I can’t remember which seller I bought it through – I use abebooks.com.au, betterworldbooks.com and bookdepository.co.uk pretty much indiscriminately. The book turns out to come, though, from a printing company called BiblioLife, who digitise out-of-print books and then print and sell them as paperbacks. So my copy of Philomena turned up in a flimsy paperback form, looking like a (very nice) self-published book. Inside, though, is a complete scan of the 1909 original – blown up just slightly, and on bright white paper, which makes for a much easier reading experience than one would have with the now-discoloured original. The margins are very wide, which is great for my compulsive annotating-and-scrawling habit.

Also – and I find this adorable – here and there, in very tiny ink pen, you can see neat annotations made by someone onto the page of the original which had been scanned. They look like useful annotations – one emends “queres” to “qu’elle”, which, sure enough, makes more sense – which beats the bubble-writing twit who carefully made utterly wrong notes on my second-hand copy of Cliges.

The Bibliolife website says they use the profits from their paperback sales to fund further digitisation projects. Sounds pretty spiffy to me!

On the other hand, let it be stated now that if Cornelius de Boer weren’t already dead I would inhume him myself. Extremely meticulous edition, with copious notes and even a complete index, but no glossary. Why, if you’re listing every instance of a given word in your text, would you not give a definition of it at the same time? Oh, right, because it’s 1909 and you’re allowed to assume everyone knows as much as you do. HOWEVER, I’ve just remembered that one of my several (why do I have several???) translations of Cliges has an English translation of Philomena in it, so at least I can cross-reference something.


1. One day I will learn how to use a card catalogue. Again. Primary school library lessons were a long time ago! I can use the card catalogue in Rare Book, but only if I’m looking for one specific book – I’ve no idea how I’d fare looking up a general topic without the ability to keyword search. Perhaps I should ask a librarian.

Things we can expect: WOMEN TALK. In Arthurian literature (and life in general, but life in general is not the topic of this blog)

Dear internet:

Today is a day on which I need to vent my frustration! In the course of my attempt to write a chapter of my thesis (it is not going very well, because every time I get rolling I run into something infuriating) I have discovered something: if a woman character does anything interesting, ever, EVERYONE, including most of the feminist scholars, will declare that she is transgressing gender boundaries.

One which I see coming up again and again is women’s use of powerful words. Ellen Germain, in her argument that Lunette acts as a man1, argues that Lunette’s lectures to Yvain and Lunette on the appropriate course of action and on political responsibility are a masculine function (she borrows a little here from Kreuger, who argues that Lunette’s words to Laudine ‘resemble those of her male advisor’ – I presume this is a hypothetical male advisor, since I don’t recall there being a male advisor in the episode). Maureen Fries’ analysis of women’s roles in Arthurian lit, ‘Female Heroes, Heroines and Counter-Heroes’ identifies a ‘female hero’ as a woman who steps outside of normative gender behavior, especially through the use of wit and powerful words. Perhaps her most interesting example is Enide, whose character she divides in two – the archetypical heroine of the opening and closing sequences of the poem, and the ‘wife-hero’ during her estrangement from Erec, during which period she exhibits a ‘loyal and loving disobedience’. Building on Fries’ work, Margaret Jewett Burland argues that Enide is concurrently both heroine and female hero (rather than either one or the other at any given time). As evidence for this, Burland notes that Enide transgresses furthest from gendered expectations *after* her reunion with Erec, when she upbraids Guivret for his unchivalrous behavior in attacking the wounded Erec.

Absolutely, yes! I am completely behind the idea that Enide’s character is a coherent whole, and that, as Burland argues, she, like her husband, undergoes an heroic crisis and subsequent transformation.

But what’s with this assumption that it’s outside of gendered expectations for a woman to exert power through words? No really, what the hell? Not all of Chrétien’s women-characters do exert power through words: Fenice does not; if Laudine does, it is primarily through her mourning speech which Yvain happens to accidentally overhear; Soredamors does not; Guinevere does, but frequently for dubious moral purposes.

But many of Chrétien’s women-characters do exert power through words: as Burland herself argues, over the course of her journey Enide learns to use her powers of speech for positive effect (at first self-defense, but later for the defense of others, and eventually as a creative act with the power to restore social harmony); Lunette talks all the damn time and without her rhetorical powers Yvain’s story simply wouldn’t happen. The two feuding sisters present their case to Arthur’s court. The weaving maidens tell their story to Yvain. Now that I think about it, Fenice *is* able to speak and exert power through words, but primarily in homosocial context – her appeals to Thessala incite Thessala to take actions which are beneficial to Fenice. The Conte du Graal is positively littered with women who turn up and upbraid one or other of the heroes and influence their actions in some way.

WOMEN TALK. Not all of the talking-women are heroines, but they are still there. It seems to me that “gendered expectations” in the mouths of scholars doesn’t actually refer to *things we can see that women do in Arthurian romance* but rather to *things we, twenty/twenty-first century scholars, expect women to do in Arthurian romance*. Maureen Fries’ ‘Female Heroes, Heroines and Counter-Heroes’ shows pretty clearly that there are (at least) three common archetypes of womanhood in Arthurian lit: at yet scholars, Fries included, persist in acting as though the only set of behaviors which might be expected of a woman are those of the heroine.

Which is not to say that these three (for the sake of argument) archetypes aren’t valued differently (it seems pretty clear to me that the heroine is normally more highly valued than the female hero and the counter-hero). But if you have a set of recurring character-types – such that one can say that a woman who does this will also do that and the other; if this set of behaviors is not normally censured, or, if censured, does not normally result in the woman being treated by her fellow characters as a gender traitor:2 then what you have here is not one set of “gendered expectations” but several.


1. Disclaimer: Germain’s methodology is all over the place. I honestly can’t tell if she thinks Lunette is a man in gender, or if she thinks Lunette is a masculine woman, or if she means Lunette is “narratively male”, a term I’ve seen come up in Lacanian discussions to label any woman who does anything interesting, ever (because of how women are all passive and receptive and boring and so on, Lacan said so). Germain doesn’t seem to have read Butler, which is fair enough since her article was published in ’91, only a year after Gender Trouble. But she also doesn’t seem to have mastered the distinction between sex and gender, and I’m told *that* has been around since Simone de Beauvoir. My conclusion is that Germain’s work doesn’t tell us much about Lunette’s own gender-idenity, *or* about Chrétien’s ideas about womanhood, but a lot about Germain’s own inability to countenance the idea that women might actually do interesting things in medieval lit.
2. Some women are: consider the Malevolent Maiden, in the Conte du Graal who is “not a maiden” but instead “worse than Satan”. The Malevolent Maiden, although she speaks in her own right and has some power to manipulate other characters, is neither Female Hero nor Counter-Hero by Fries’ standards: rather, she is a potential-heroine gone wrong, a woman who occupies the place of a heroine in the narrative but refuses to conform to the heroine’s model of femininity.

Tonight: Storytime with Highly!

In the course of my evening’s procrastination1 I started fishing through the backlog in my RSS feed, and discovered that Jon Jarrett carried through on his promise to tell a story about a woman not named Adelaide. Riquilda is a pretty spiffy name, and also it’s not Adelaide. Not that I have anything against women named Adelaide (never met any) or cities by that name (nice place. Inexplicable statues of pigs rooting in fake garbage bins).

I have not promised to tell anyone any stories, but I feel like doing so anyway. Let me tell you the story of


AKA: My favourite part of that obnoxious book, the Conte du Graal, and probably not one I’ll get to talk about very much in the course of my thesis.

(With no pictures, because photobucket and WordPress both hate me)

SO! Sir Gawain is hanging about in the town of Tintagel, where there’s a tournament going on. Sir Meliant de Liz has the hots for the eldest daughter of Sir Tiebaut of Tintagel, and since she has declared that she won’t love him unless he defeats her father in combat, Sir Meliant de Liz (who hasn’t figured out that this is not the way to ingratiate oneself with one’s prospective in-laws) has brought all his friends and challenged Sir Tiebaut to a melée.

Gawain, who is staying with Sir Tiebaut, is nominally on Sir Tiebaut’s side here: but since he’s only passing through Tintagel on his way to face trial-by combat for a murder he may or may not have committed,2 he’s lurking around at the edge of the tourney field, trying to look inconspicuous. Sir Gawain is not very good at inconspicuous: he’s got several horses with him, and two shields, and there he is at the edge of the field, looking like a baggage train unto himself.

Up on the top of the tower, Meliant de Liz’s girlfriend has gathered with her ladies to watch the proceedings. With them is her sister, Sir Tiebaut’s younger daughter, known as the Maiden with the Small Sleeves.  All the ladies are quite excited by the tourney, although rather disappointed to find that all Gawain’s armour belongs to only one knight – they’d hoped for twice the eye-candy. Sensible women. Not the Elder Sister, though – she doesn’t give two hoots about Sir Gawain, at this point. As far as she’s concerned, Meliant de Liz is the best thing before sliced bread, and this is a perfect opportunity for everyone else to observe the magnificence of her boyfriend.

‘Look, girls,’ she says, ‘isn’t he the hottest thing ever to don armour?’

Yes indeed, all the ladies agree. Meliant de Liz is pretty damn spectacular. And they all settle down for a good perving session.

But wait! There’s dissent in the ranks. ‘There’s a knight more attractive than Meliant de Liz,’ declares the Maiden with the Small Sleeves. Elder Sister takes this pronouncement about as well as you’d expect a teenage girl to take dissent from her little sister: she up and slaps the Maiden with the Small Sleeves, and all the other ladies have to physically restrain her from further violence.

Just when everyone’s settled back down to check out Meliant de Liz again, the Maiden with the Small Sleeves pipes up again: ‘I can see a more handsome and better knight,’ she insists.

Elder Sister rounds on her sister again: ‘How dare you insult someone whom I have praised!’ (Anyone who’s had a sibling can tell you that the fact that Elder Sister has praised him is the best reason for insulting anyone, but clearly Elder Sister hasn’t figured that out yet.) And she slaps the Maiden with the Small Sleeves again, and the ladies have to pull her away.

Perhaps the ladies are getting sick of the sisters’ quarrel, because they move on to safer topics: Sir Gawain. Who is he? What’s he doing down there, and why isn’t he joining in the tourney? Various answers are proposed: he’s a coward. He’s sworn not to participate. He’s a merchant or a money-changer in disguise.

‘How can you say such things?’ cries the maiden with small sleeves. ‘He seems more like a champion than a money-changer: he’s a knight, and he looks the part.’

The ladies, who are all older and wiser, roll their eyes. ‘Don’t be silly,’ they say. ‘He’s disguised as a knight, and trying to avoid taxes and customs duties. He’ll be arrested for his deception, just wait!’

Come evening, Gawain retires to his lodgings. Meanwhile, at Tiebaut’s court, the talk is of the unknown knight who refused to enter the tourney. The Maiden with the Small Sleeves continues to insist that he is a true knight, and, indeed, a better knight than Sir Meliant de Liz. Her older sister decides that she’s had enough of this, and goes to her father.

‘Daddy dear,’ she says, ‘did you know there’s a merchant in the town, posing as a knight? He’s taken lodgings with one of your retainers. If you go there now, you can arrest him at once.’ So Sir Tiebaut orders his horse to be readied, and announces that he’s off to arrest this merchant.

The Maiden with the Small Sleeves is not going to stand for this, oh no! She sneaks off through a back door and hurries to the house where Gawain is staying: Gawain’s host, Sir Garin, has two young daughters, with whom she is friends. Her friends let her into the house; meanwhile, her father has arrived in the main hall. He tells Sir Garin that he is here to arrest Sir Garin’s guest. Sir Garin, as a good host should, vouches for Gawain’s honour, and invites Tiebaut in to meet him. Tiebaut accosts Gawain and demands to know if he is a true knight, and why he won’t enter the tourney.

Gawain agrees that his behavior is shameful: but, he explains, he has no choice. He’s due to face trial-by-combat, and if he should be injured or delayed in Tintagel, even greater shame would fall upon his family.

This is fair enough, Sir Tiebaut agrees, and refrains from arresting Sir Gawain. He offers him an escort and provisions for the road, but Gawain declines: he has plenty of money to buy provisions and lodgings. Just as Sir Tiebaut is turning to leave, the Maiden with the Small Sleeves runs into the hall.

‘Good my lord,’ she cries, running up to Gawain and wrapping her arms around his leg. ‘Grant me a favour! I come to you to lay claim against my sister: uphold my rights, please!’

Gawain, who is more used to being propositioned by grown women than small girls, is a little startled. And, knowing nothing of the girl, he’s not sure what to say here: so he pats her on the head and hopes for the best. The Maiden with the Small Sleeves grabs his hand and says to him: ‘I lay claim before you against my sister, who bears me no love or affection, because today she has caused me great shame on your account’.

Gawain is slightly charmed. ‘What can I do for you?’ he asks. At this point, Sir Tiebaut cuts in: ‘Don’t listen to my daughter – she is a silly, foolish child.’ And he looks like he’s going to hustle his daughter away.

‘Indeed,’ says Gawain. ‘Then it would be dishonourable of me not to do as she wishes. Tell me at once, my sweet and noble child, what I can do for you?’

‘Can you bear arms in the tourney tomorrow, for love of me?’ she asks him. Gawain looks down at her, and asks if she’s ever asked such a thing of a knight before.

‘No, my lord.’

‘Don’t listen to her,’ Tiebaut tells him, again. ‘Don’t worry about her foolishness.’

‘On the contrary,’ Gawain tells him, ‘she has spoken well for such a little girl: I will be her knight tomorrow.’ And the Maiden with the Small Sleeves is delighted, and bows low at his feet.

Sir Tiebaut scoops up his daughter, and rides with her back to the castle. Along the way, he asks her what the cause of all this is, and she explains the situation. Sir Tiebaut is perhaps exasperated when he hears that Elder Sister won’t shut up about Meliant de Liz (after all, the fellow’s busily defeating Sir Tiebaut in combat); or maybe he sighs a big sigh of “oh dear, here comes the inevitable”; regardless, he gives his youngest daughter permission to send Sir Gawain a favour tomorrow.

‘Oh, no,’ cries the Maiden with Small Sleeves. ‘My sleeves are too small – no knight would want my sleeves as a favour.’ And so, when they get home, he does two things: first of all he gives Elder Sister a sound telling-off for hitting the Maiden with Small Sleeves; and secondly, he goes upstairs and finds a big piece of red samite, and orders a new sleeve to me made from it, so that the Maiden with Small Sleeves will have a favour to give to Sir Gawain.

The next day, the Maiden with the Small Sleeves runs out to Sir Gawain before the tourney, and presents him with the red sleeve to wear ‘as a token of my love’. And Gawain accepts it and thanks her very solemnly; then he heads out onto the field and proceeds to bash other knights left right and centre.  The first thing he does is go after Sir Meliant de Liz, and tip him out of the saddle and into the mud. He captures Meliant’s horse, and sends it to the Maiden with the Small Sleeves as a gift.

The Maiden with the Small Sleeves cannot resist rubbing it in: ‘Look, sister – look at your fabulous boyfriend lying there in the mud! Now everyone can see that there’s a better knight; I’m right, I’m right, NYAH NYAH NYAH NYAH.’ And her sister slaps her again, and the ladies have to pull them apart again.

At the end of the day, the Maiden with the Small Sleeves goes out to meet Sir Gawain outside her father’s castle.  She takes hold of the stirrup of his horse, and then perhaps she’s overcome with shyness, because all she can think of to say is “a thousand thanks, good sir”.

But Gawain knows exactly what she means, and he promises that he will never fail in her service, not until he’s old and grey: and if she is ever in need, then she can send for him and nothing will prevent him coming to her aid.

Sir Tiebaut appears and (finally) asks Gawain for his name: Gawain gives it, but he cannot be convinced to stay. Just as he’s about to ride off, the Maiden with the Small Sleeves takes hold of his stirrup again and kisses his foot. Gawain thinks this is a bit odd (but kind of adorable) and asks her why she did that. She answers that she did so because she wanted him to remember her.

And Sir Gawain promises that he will never forget her, and takes his leave of the court.


And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes the tale of Sir Gawain and the Adorable Small Girl. (Incidentally, I’ve filched and paraphrased from the Penguin translation, not the OF original, because today I am lazy.) It’s fascinating to me for a couple of reasons: one, because it’s a rare depiction of childhood/adolescence in medieval lit – it’s clear that the Maiden with the Small Sleeves is young, but just old enough to start emulating adults in court society. Two, because it’s a hilarious depiction of sibling rivalry (much more entertaining than the feuding sisters in Yvain, who are older and more serious), one of those little slice-of-life stories which remind you that people just don’t change. Particularly not when the people in question are teen(ish) sisters.

And three, because I’m fascinated by the clear delineation between heterosocial and heteroromantic relationships here: there’s absolutely no question that Gawain’s interest in the Maiden is non-sexual, but their relationship conforms to the general pattern which we expect of courtly romantic relationships. Indeed, their friendship deliberately parralels that of Elder Sister and Meliant, and the difference is not in the form (each knight represents and honours his lady; each lady’s standing rests on her knight’s performance) but in the intent (one romantic, one friendly) and the consequences: Elder Sister’s romantic relationship causes conflict and divison in her family; the Maiden’s social relationship with Gawain brings father and daughter closer and upholds her father’s honour.


1. Seriously, folks, conjugating the verb rapio in the passive in all its tenses and moods is… disconcerting, if you’ve been reading a whole lot of books and articles on rape and abduction and so on. Incidentally, Katherine Gravdal’s Ravishing Maidens is a fascinating read, if you feel like wading through a whole book about rape.
2. We don’t know, because Chrétien never finished the story. Some people think he died before he got to finishing it. Personally, I think he got bored, or perhaps just gave up in despair. I for one have no idea where this narrative is going and I have a feeling Chrétien didn’t either.