Fans of the twelfth-century poet Marie de France can now read a series of new translations of her works.
Considered the earliest female French poet, Marie de France wrote at least 12 Breton Lais – short narrative poems, likely between the years 1155 and 1170. She also published a large collection of fables. She based her writing on traditional Breton Lais, and she recounts the romances speaking as a storyteller commenting within the text.
Five of her works are translated by Katharine Margot Toohey, which she published through Quemar Press. The original texts of each work are included along with modern English translation, as well as short preface essays. The books published so far are:
All She Resolves to Rescue: Marie de France’s Lanval and Guildeluec and Guilliadon (a romance known as Eliduc)
First Published in 2020
Excerpt from Lanval:
In another Lai, there is an adventure
– and I’ll tell you more:
what happened to a wealthy vassal –
in Breton called ‘Lanval’.
The King rested in Carduel –
King Arthur, courtly and noble –
for Picts’ and Scots’ war bands
now destroyed the country’s lands:
they were in Logres to stay,
their damage of it underway.
Once She Had Escaped the Tower: Aucassin and Nicolette, and Marie de France’s Gugemer
Published in 2019
Excerpt from Gugemer:
Gladly come, you must hear
something to guard dear
of such fine substance ever,
that mistold burdens the teller.
Lords, hear these words from Marie
she watches her time closely.
This translation of Gugemar is combined with Aucassin and Nicolette, a twelfth or thirteenth-century French story, which Toohey describes as a work of underestimated value. She explains that “the titular hero, Nicolette, is seriously working out the best way she can survive a kingdom whose men want to ‘burn her in a fire’, to destroy her and cause fear, just as the hero Aucassin is honestly fearful about going into battle because ‘he might strike’ another man or be struck.”
Then She Endures Like the Tree: Marie de France’s The Ash Tree (Le Fresne) and Honeysuckle (Chevrefoil)
Toohey explains the reasons for combining these two works:
In both, in danger, a female hero is interconnected with the concept of a tree symbolising a humane alternative for her – a hiding place that ensures her survival. In literature and legend, a female hero sometimes transforms into a tree to remedy a problem, just as Daphne metamorphoses into a laurel tree, guarded against Apollo, or Barbara Allen’s spirit is preserved in the briar that springs from her grave. In contrast, in Marie de France’s The Ash Tree and Honeysuckle, the female heroes remain human and incarnate and take on aspects of a tree that shelters them. In these works, the metaphoric tree symbolising them is also something with which they can interact physically – branches that protected Fresne (The Ash Tree‘s hero) in darkness or a subversive forest that becomes a sanctuary for the Queen Iseult and her beloved in exile, the knight Tristan. This metaphor is made tangible and practical in the narrative.
These three books are available through the Quemar Press website – click here to visit it.
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