Culture, Ethnicity, and Assimilation in Anglo-Norman Britain: The Evidence from Marie de France’s Lais
Author: Fisher, Marianne
Source: Exemplaria, Volume 24, Number 3, July 2012 , pp. 195-213(19)
Publisher: Maney Publishing
Abstract:Certain social assumptions recur throughout medieval romance, realizing and realized by feudal doxa. However, there are significant variations between texts, depending on individual habitus. Marie’s Lais are characterized by emphasis on aristocratic community; nobility and refinement of thought and action; and insistence on Breton sources — variations that pertain directly to the Anglo-Norman context. The first two variants bridge ethnic divides, encouraging sociocultural assimilation. Appropriation of Breton culture offers the young, rootless aristocracy a sense of history and belonging, and the Lais blur Breton, Norman, and British identities into cross-Channel Celticity. Though an Andersonian ‘consolation of fratricide’ is effected, there are cracks. The English are absent from the Lais, and the collection is ever aware of difference. Moreover, pedagogical constructs of homogenous community are undercut by individual experience. Troubled by the violence of authoritarian structures — patriarchy, feudalism, colonialism — the Lais use gendered discourse to interrogate them. The collection establishes an intertextual dialectic, but offers no answers. Laüstic, Chevrefoil, and Chaitivel cast aside all structures of distinction, but become paralyzed by an ideological vacuum. Eliduc finally retreats to conservative harmony, but such fantasies and order can no longer be accepted naively. The questioning voices of the other poems continue to sound.
Document Type: Original Article
Affiliations: Cardiff University
Publication date: 2012-07-01