Authors: Marie de France

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French poet

Author Works


Lais, c. 1167 (English translation, 1911)

Ysopet, after 1170 (Medieval Fables, 1983; also known as Fables)

Espurgatoire Saint Patriz, 1208-1215 (translation of Tractatus de purgatorio Sancti Patricii, attributed to Henry of Saltrey)


Although very little is truly known of the life of Marie de France (mah-ree duh frahns), modern scholars are in agreement that she wrote during the latter half of the twelfth century. Because of the accuracy of her description of Pitre, an ancient town about three miles from Rouen, some scholars have speculated that Marie might have been a native of that Norman town. Her Lais, dedicated to “a noble king,” seems to indicate that she was at the English court during the reign of Henry II and that the narrative poems of the Lais were dedicated to him. Although she lived at the English court, she used Norman French, which was typical of her class. Marie de France’s writings show that she knew not only English and French but also Latin, a remarkable achievement for a woman of her time.{$I[AN]9810000576}{$I[A]Marie de France}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Marie de France}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Marie de France}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Marie de France}{$I[tim]1150;Marie de France}

The Lais of Marie de France is among the highlights of Old French literature. Her material, not original, has analogues in many literatures, as do many of the writings from the medieval period. The narrative poems collected in the Lais cover a variety of subjects: “Lanval” is a story of a human knight beloved of a fairy; “Les Deux Amants” tells of a young man who dies carrying his beloved up a high, steep hill; “Bisclavret” is a story about a werewolf; and “Le Chèvre-feuille” is a retelling of part of the Tristan-Isolde story. Many modern scholars have remarked on her distinctive narrative voice, which offers insight into the socio-literary conventions of her day. Marie de France is usually credited with writing the first Old French Ysopet, or collection of fables similar to Aesop’s. Her title, which came to be applied generally to such collections, is the Old French diminutive form of Aesop’s name.

Marie de France evidently found both personal favor and popularity as an author at the English court. She is credited with influencing the later use of the lai by medieval authors; in addition, her works are invaluable to modern feminist scholars.

BibliographyBetham, Matilda. The Lay of Marie. New York: Woodstock Books, 1996. Betham’s interpretation of the Lais originally published in 1816. Includes the text of two of the Lais and abstracts of the whole collection.Bloch, R. Howard. The Anonymous Marie de France. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Argues that Marie de France was a writer of profound importance and significance, a “Joyce of the twelfth century.” Includes notes and an index.Bruckner, Matilda Tomaryn. “Marie de France.” In French Women Writers, edited by Eva Martin Sartori and Dorothy Wynne Zimmerman. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994. Biographical data include parameters by which Marie’s dates and her possible identities are determined. Bruckner discusses the Lais by groups according to common elements and draws attention to the poet’s use of free indirect discourse to merge her voice with that of her characters. Helpful bibliography.Burgess, Glyn S. “The Fables of Marie de France: Some Recent Scholarship.” French Studies, no. 61 (Winter, 1996): 8-13. Summarizes and critiques contemporary studies of Marie de France’s fables; includes a bibliography of studies on the fables.Burgess, Glyn S. The “Lais” of Marie de France: Text and Context. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987. A detailed study of the twelve lais contained in the British Library. The study notes thematic and textual parallels in the lais, with the author’s hope that they will help scholars in future evaluations of the authorship of these works (given the possibility that the twelve lais were not all written by the same person). Burgess discusses the problem of internal chronology and focuses attention on key terms in Marie’s use of language. Includes extensive notes for further study, a bibliography, and an index.Crosland, Margaret. Women of Iron and Velvet: French Women Writers After George Sand. New York: Taplinger, 1976. Despite the seeming limits of the title, in the second chapter the author discusses Marie de France from a feminist perspective, thus providing a different view of her importance.Damon, S. Foster. “Marie de France: Psychologist of Courtly Love.” PMLA 44 (Spring, 1929): 968-996. An outstanding study of the subject, structured as a systematic analysis of the similarities and differences among the characters in the various lais.Dishaw, Carolyn, and David Wallace, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Women’s Writing. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. A compilation of essays by scholars that provides valuable context for the literary works of medieval women.Donovan, Mortimer J. The Breton Lay: A Guide to Varieties. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1969. Includes an initial chapter on Marie de France, which is followed by other chapters detailing the later development of the lay form. Contains useful plot summaries of The Lays.Ferguson, Mary H. “Folklore in the Lais of Marie de France.” Romantic Review 58 (1966): 3-24. A catalog of folklore motifs. This article can be a useful introduction to this aspect of the Lais.Ferrante, Joan M. Woman as Image in Medieval Literature: From the Twelfth Century to Dante. New York: Columbia University Press, 1975. Argues that Marie de France’ lays, in which an imprisoned woman invents or calls forth an ideal lover, indicate the power of the female imagination.Ferrante, Joan M., et al., eds. In Pursuit of Perfection: Courtly Love in Medieval Literature. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1975. Discussion of Marie de France in this book is brief, but the author includes an argument that “Eliduc” represents Marie de France’ rejection of the tradition of courtly love. The various essays provide a good, general background for the study of medieval literature on love.Ferrante, Joan. “The French Courtly Poet Marie de France.” In Medieval Women Writers, edited by Katharina M. Wilson. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984. A brief introduction to the works of Marie de France with concise résumés and special emphasis on the Lais. Quotations are in English only. The essay is followed by an English verse translation of one lai, “Lanval,” and a number of the Fables.Gertz, Sun Hee Kim. “Echoes and Reflections of Enigmatic Beauty in Ovid and Marie de France.” Speculum 73 (April, 1998): 372-396. Examines Ovid’s and Marie de France’s fascination with the subject of beauty and its relation to love; compares Ovid’s tale of Narcissus and Echo in the Metamorphoses with Marie’s Lai “Guigemar.”Holmes, Urban Tigner, Jr. A History of Old French Literature: From the Origins to 1300. Rev. ed. New York: Russell and Russell, 1962. One of the authoritative books on medieval literature. An assessment of the merits of various opinions, helping the reader make sound judgments.Larsen, Anne R., and Colette H. Winn, eds. Writings by Pre-Revolutionary French Women: From Marie de France to Elizabeth Vigée-Le Brun. New York: Garland, 2000. Translations of Marie de France’ “Chievrefueil,” “Laostic,” and “Bisclavret.”McCash, June Hall. “The Swan and the Nightingale: Natural Unity in a Hostile World in the Lais of Marie de France.” French Studies 49 (October, 1995): 385-396. Discusses Marie de France’s symbolic and mimetic depiction of nature in her Lais. Notes that although she uses a wealth of symbolic associations of birds, she does not violate their natural functions.Maréchal, Chantal, ed. In Quest of Marie de France: A Twelfth-Century Poet. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992. Contains fifteen articles by established medievalists: three articles on the Fables, six general articles on the Lais, and six with a narrower focus. Of special interest is the editor’s introduction, which offers a chronological approach to critical assessment of Marie through the centuries.Marie, de France. Fables. Edited and translated by Harriet Spiegel. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987. Provides the text and English translation for the Medieval Fables. This book has an especially interesting introduction with informative notes, in which Spiegel suggests that Marie herself could have gathered and recorded these fables for the first time. Spiegel includes a discussion of Marie’s role in adapting existing tales, and her comments on the meaning of “translation” in regard to the Medieval Fables are particularly thought-provoking.Martin, Mary Lou. The Fables of Marie de France: An English Translation. Birmingham, Ala.: Summa, 1984. The translator’ fine introduction to this book provides an interesting thematic analysis of the fables as well as a discussion of their literary reputation.Mickel, Emanuel J. Marie de France. New York: Twayne, 1974. A good, full-length study of Marie de France, her works, and the intellectual background of the twelfth century for the general reader as well as the student of medieval literature. Contains individual chapters on Marie’s identity, the narrative lai, sources and plot summaries for the various Lais, an interpretation, and the structure and style of the Lais. Includes a chronology of the time period, useful notes and references for further study, a select bibliography (with many foreign language sources), and an index.Mickel, Emanuel J. “Marie de France’s Use of Irony as a Stylistic and Narrative Device.” Studies in Philology 71 (1974): 265-290. Mickel discusses Marie’s gentle irony as an inherent element in several of the plots in the Lais; he also considers her use of irony as an important part of her skill as a writer. Detailed presentation of the question with examples.Mickel, Emanuel J. “A Reconsideration of the Lais of Marie de France.” Speculum 46 (1971): 39-65. A careful consideration of the various Lais from the point of view of Marie’s concept of love. Many of the same points are made in chapter 7 of Mickel’s book, Marie de France (above).Semple, Benjamin. “The Male Psyche and the Female Sacred Body in Marie de France and Christine de Pizan.” Yale French Studies, no. 86 (1994): 164-186. Discusses the first of Marie de France’s lais, “Guigemar,” and Christine de Pizan’s Livre de la cité des dames; argues that the image of humanity that emerges from the texts, like the mystical vision, invites us to contemplate the essential paradox of a body that is at once sexual, intellectual, and ethical.Sethurman, Jayshree. “Tale-Type and Motif Indexes to the Fables of Marie de France.” Le Cygne, Bulletin of the International Marie de France Society 5 (Spring, 1999): 19-35. A table of folktale types linking Marie’s Fables to the compilations of universal folktale motifs classified and cataloged by Antti Arne and revised and expanded by Stith Thompson.
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