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Der Ritter vom Turn (The Book of the Knight of the Tower) was first published in Basel in 1493. It is the German translation of a French work, the Livre pour l'enseignement de ses filles by the Chevalier de la Tour Landry, compiled between 1370 and 1371 by the minor French aristocrat, Geoffroy IV de la Tour Landry, for the instruction of his daughters. The German version was translated from the French by Marquard vom Stein, a member of one of the oldest Swabian aristocratic families. Marquard vom Stein had two daughters, Elsa and Jakobea, for whom he claims to have translated the French text. The Basel edition was followed by two more fifteenth, seven sixteenth and two seventeenth-century editions; in 1850 Oskar Wolff included it in his Volksromane. An English edition was published by Caxton in 1483 and a French one in Paris in 1514. The Ritter vom Turn is a courtesy text: a guide to correct - that is, socially acceptable - behaviour for young ladies of the nobility and, in the late Middle Ages, daughters of the bourgeoisie. It consists of exempla, stories of good or bad women drawn from a number of sources, mainly the Bible and Classical literature, the Legenda Aurea, chronicles, saints' lives, collections of exempla for use in sermons, fabliaux, legends and even personal experience. The stories in the Ritter vom Turn are located within a double frame: the German translator's preface and the Chevalier's own. The former gives reasons for translating the text; the latter explains the Chevalier's decision to compile the work in the first place. Together the prefaces constitute a framework and point of reference which guide interpretation of the text. The stories themselves frame a dialogue between the Chevalier and his wife on the code of courtly love which both affects and is affected by our reading of them. The work as a whole is framed by the lives of its female readers and traditional male scholastic/theological expectations of them while in its turn inculcating a code of behaviour intended to provide a framework for these lives that itself encourages women to internalize these expectations. This article explores the way in which these different frameworks interrelate, interact and influence our (and the fifteenth-century) reading of the text. It also examines whether the variety of genres encompassed by Der Ritter vom Turn "jostle for space" to the extent that they burst through the framework set by author and translator, defy the purpose of the work and move it closer to the popular prose fiction of the early-sixteenth Century than the didactic manual it is presented as.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 1999

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