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The Lais of Marie de France

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  6,989 ratings  ·  340 reviews
This is a prose translation of the lais or poems attributed to Marie de France. Little is known of her but she was probably the Abbess of the abbey at Shaftesbury in the late 12th century, illegitimate daughter of Geoffrey Plantagenet and hence the half-sister of Henry II of England. It was to a king, and probably Henry II, that she dedicated these poems of adventure and l ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published March 25th 1999 by Penguin Classics (first published 1160)
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Marie de France was an aristocratic twelfth-century poet, from whose name we conclude that she was apparently living somewhere other than France when she wrote her most famous works. Probably England: she writes in Anglo-Norman, which is an important language for anyone interested in the history of English because it's the source of so many borrowings. Marie was probably attached to the court of Henry II (who, I need scarcely remind you, was himself French and spoke no English), but apart from t ...more
Laura Anne
Sep 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book contains the 12 poems by Marie de France, an introduction by Glyn Burgess, a translator's note from Keith Busby: a bibliography, an Index of Proper Names, and three of Marie's poems in the original Old French which allows the reader to see that the original poems consisted of short lines, of about 7 or 8 syllables arranged in continuous rhyming couplets.

Burgess and Busby have offered a prose translation, which focuses on being as close to the original meaning as possible, and they cons
Tim Poston
Dec 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
These stories by a 12th Century abbess have everything! Love and treason and a noble betrayed werewolf ... Stephenie Meyer eat your decadent, twinkling little heart out.
The English is a little stiff, because it sets out to be very close to the mediaeval French poetry, but the power comes through. Amazing these lais are not more famous.

I can't resist one extended quote:
'Lord,' she said, 'please come hunting in the forest in the region where I live. Stay in my husband's castle, be bled there an
Roman Clodia
Jun 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
There's so much that we don't know about the lais in this volume which we have from the Harley manuscript in the BL: we don't know exactly when they were composed (though sometime in the later 12th century), or in what order, who 'Marie de France' was, and who the king to whom she dedicated them (Henry II?) - we don't even know for sure that she was a woman (though, like other scholars, I'm fairly confident that she was from the content of her poems). What we have are these twelve short tales, o ...more
I studied Guigemar and Bisclavret, and I ended up wanting to read the rest of Marie de France's lais. Bisclavret is one of my favourites, really, possibly due to reading William Burgwinkle's criticism of it and being amused to see it as a gay love story. Most of the lais are short and very easy to read, dwelling on knights and their lovers. I quite liked Lanval, as well, the Arthurian lai. Some of them have little morals in them, some of them are just sweet little stories (or sometimes rather bi ...more
J.Aleksandr Wootton
Mar 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: undergrad
Originally read as assigned in undergrad, but upon re-reading realized that the Lais are much subtler than I had allotted time to appreciate. Good stories of courtly romance and observations about love - as experienced, pursued, and idealized by that particularly chivalric wedge of medieval society.
Feb 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Marie de France is my homegirl forever.
May 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
My favorite lais are "Yonec", "Equitan", and "Bisclavret" in that order. "Le Pauvre Malheureux" needs an ending. It could make for some decent fan fiction or retelling. ...more
Jun 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Soooo... Is adultery good or bad?
I mean, on the surface the answer is bad, you faithless arsehole, though one or two stories give some wriggle room, such as the horrific marriage in the The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover, in which case the wedded relationship is so monstrously vicious and toxic you'd be weird if you didn't cheer for the adulterers. But in the various 'knights in love' tales of Marie de France, where the stories are varnished in old time religion and 'thou shalt not comm
I've finished the "Lays" and have the two stories that were not by Marie de France to read, but thought I would get some impressions down before I finish them.

The Lays were originally folk-songs which Marie heard from Breton minstrels, and she frequently praises the music to which they were set, which is obviously lost to us. Her source material is therefore similar to that of the more well-known Chrétien de Troyes,and many of his themes of courtly love and questing are dealt with here, although
Denise E.
Sep 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I wanna do a translation of Bisclaveret. If anyone wants to help me, here is what I've got so far.

While engaged in making lais,
I would not want to forget Bisclavret.
Bisclavret in Brittany was born
Called Garulf by the Norms.
Erstwhile, people told the tale
And often you would hear occur,
That many men werewolves became
And set up households in the wood.
A werewolf is a savage beast;
Because at least when fully stirred,
He eats up men and does great bad,
Travelling and living in that wood.
But it must b
Little is known about Marie de France except that she wrote this collection of Lais, translated an edition of Aesop's Fables, and translated an edition of St. Patrick's Purgatory. In this collection of lais, Marie de France plays with the tropes of the romance genre; she comments on loyalty in courtly love and allows some of her female characters to play leading roles. These lais were written in the style of short verse stories that resemble fairy tales and were originally written in the Middle ...more
Mattea Gernentz
Aug 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
I'm honestly peeved that we spent all of our time in Medieval Literature on Chaucer, King Arthur, and (le sigh) Piers Plowman when Marie de France exists. Weasels fetching flowers? Forbidden love? Werewolves? She's an innovative storyteller—and the first French woman poet! Wheaton, take notes. ...more
Marie de France is one of the earliest known female authors, though we know little about her beyond her name, that she wrote in French and was evidently of French origin, and that she spent part of her life in England. To that extent, I found myself interested by these stories, and from a historical perspective there's a lot here. But my problem with the stories—and the reason why I'm a socio-economic historian and not a scholar of literature—is that they reflect such different sensibilities fro ...more
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is fascinating. How did I get through so many years of schooling without hearing about these lais or Marie de France? This was translated from medieval French verse to English prose by Naomi Lewis. I suppose French scholars might want to read these lais in original form, but these worked well for me. And I appreciate the prose form. It's hard enough to translate into another language/culture/and era without also trying to write in verse.

These are all tales of love ... love lost, love jealou
The Lays of Marie de France are a series of twelve short lays (narrative poems) in Old French. I read this translation as a library ebook, but it turns out that it is also available under a Creative Commons license:

The translator, David R Slavitt, writes:
Marie who? A number of suggestions have been proposed for the identity of this wonderful twelfth-century poet. Marie, Abbess of Shaftesbury, the illegitimate daughter of Geoffrey Plantagenet and half-sist
Nov 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arthurian, literature
The editor and translator of Marie's lais, leading scholars in the field of medieval French literature, have in the best tradition of Penguin Classics aimed to make their subject accessible to the general public. Translating a foreign text, especially a poetic text, is always full of difficulties, but luckily Marie's poems, simple in expression and apparently without artifice, speak as well in translation as in the original.

A comparison with the pseudo-medieval version served up by Eugene Mason
Didn’t expect such rich queer subtext. Didn’t expect so many Ovidian allusions. Didn’t expect so much discourse on female desire. I don’t even know what I expected out of this but this has now become one of my favorite medieval texts of all time.
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really really enjoyed it. So excited to study this in October. Beautifully written, absolutely ahhh
Feb 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
suuuuper short and good!!! just started and finished today! the first werewolf story!!! lots of sex and sexism and mistaken identity!! what were people on in the middle ages!! why is france Like That?!
Jan 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics, medieval
The Lais of Marie de France is the perfect medieval read for anyone who enjoys fairytales. Each short story features elements that fans of the genre will recognize and love—beautiful women trapped in towers, daring knights who perform feats of arms to capture their attention, mysterious boats that sail themselves. One is even about a king who creates a contest for the hand of his daughter in marriage: any men who can carry her straight up the nearby mountain without resting can have her.

Mar 08, 2013 rated it liked it
This collection of tales written by a 12th century French woman presents us not only with enchanting stories in the vein of Arthurian legends, but also a glimpse into the controversies over love, marriage, and the role of women during the Middle Ages. These tales (poems in the original, but rendered as prose in this translation) were likely written during the lifetime of Eleanor of Aquitaine – the strong-willed woman who ended up as Queen of both France and England (at different times) and in ma ...more
Sep 09, 2009 rated it liked it
It was mostly entertaining. It's a collection of lais (short fairy tales, basically) all written by this woman we know basically nothing about. My favorite story was probably "Bisclavret", which is a werewolf story written from the werewolf's perspective. Also he bites his evil wife's nose off, which is kind of cool. The rest of the stories, it must be said, can fall easily into several categories: unfaithful wife/husband, magical lovers, wives locked in towers, and for some reason at least two ...more
Micah Genest
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medieval, faerie-folk
A great collection of medieval life in the world of the others.

These Bretons lais fall more onto the medieval chivalric romance side than the fabliaux, though they contain elements of both. They included short tales that contain both elements of everyday troubles (fabliaux, though not bawdy), but then push them towards the more fantastical side of medieval literature, though not as much as others, such as Chrétien de Troyes.

Truly enjoyable and essential for the lighter side of medieval fantast
Jan 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: twelfth-century
Really charming little fairy-taleish stories about well-born once-upon-a-time people and their relationship problems. The most striking thing to a modern reader is the adultery thing. There's not really a taboo around it, though a lot of the women have very jealous husbands who aren't keen on it. One lady makes her lover swear he believes in God before she'll sleep with him. It's like they're enthusiastic about this Christianity thing but haven't quite got the hang of it.

This really delivers on
Mar 29, 2007 rated it really liked it
read this over the course of a quiet evening alone with a glass of wine. wonderful. i love sensualists, even if they get religious. reminds me of that one pessoa heteronym, i forget his name, who spends all his poems singing out about how knowing what a blade of grass or a rock IS has nothing to do with words or meaning or anything but just being, and its being being near his own. people who sing about that are essential for me...
Sep 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Marie took over my dissertation (and my life) for several months. Even after dissertation (AD) I'm able to love her! Each lai is a gem. She was post-modern in the Middle Ages. Her voice rings clear and true. Her stories are magical. ...more
Jul 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Marie's tales are a ton of fun and quite a bit interesting as well. This edition, though it contains endnotes and a few footnotes, is mostly concerned with interpreting (which are mostly good, though general in scope). ...more
one of the most gorgeous books i've ever had the good fortune to read. a true treasure. ...more
Oct 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This rating is more of a 4.5 - I absolutely loved these tales! Granted they can get a little repetitive, but they're just so accessible and often so, so funny. ...more
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Marie de France ("Mary of France", around 1135-1200) was a poet evidently born in France and living in England during the late 12th century. Virtually nothing is known of her early life, though she wrote a form of continental French[citation needed:] that was copied by Anglo-Norman scribes. Therefore, most of the manuscripts of her work bear Anglo-Norman traits. She also translated some Latin lite ...more

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