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The Myth of Morgan la Fey
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Arthurian > The masochistic nature of courtly love

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message 1: by Lia (last edited Jun 08, 2018 03:28PM) (new) - added it

Lia | 522 comments Mod
“Psychoanalytic theorist, Slavoj Žižek has asserted that it is only with the emergence of the masochistic couple in the nineteenth century that we can begin to understand the dynamics of courtly love. Here, we will likewise apply “courtly masochism” retroactively to its Celtic and Breton origins.
Furthermore, Žižek sees the survival of the courtly love mechanism as man’s attempt to compensate for the reduction of Woman to phantasy...”
source: The Myth of Morgan la Fey by Kristina Pérez

So far, I’ve only read Gareth and his unreasonably harsh mistress. I don’t know anything about Morgan la Fey yet. I’ve already spontaneously called their dynamic “sadomasochistic.”

I might have read something about that regarding Don Quixote, actually. Probably from Ian Watt. But holy sheep, there’s a whole chapter and two major theorists framing (Arthurian) courtly love as inherently masochistic!

message 2: by Ian (last edited Jun 09, 2018 11:08AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "“Psychoanalytic theorist, Slavoj Žižek has asserted that it is only with the emergence of the masochistic couple in the nineteenth century that we can begin to understand the dynamics of courtly lo..."

There is as problem with the whole idea of "courtly love" as a medieval thing, whether an actual practice or a purely literary fantasy. Much of what we used to think we knew about (say, parts of the first chapter of C.S. Lewis' "Allegory of Love") may be a nineteenth-century phantom, conjured up by the great, but sometimes badly mistaken, medievalist Gaston Paris. So a nineteenth-century reference kind of fits.

Of course, part of the problem is Paris' name for the phenomenon, "amour courtois," which only appears a couple of times in the medieval literature. He was mostly talking about the impact of the Provencal (southern French) troubador's "fin amor" ("refined love") on the trouveres of northern France -- essentially lyric poets in both cases -- and applied it to the Arthurian romances, and some other literature. It was an uneasy fit, because much of his evidence for the phenomenon can be read as elaborate jokes.

Even getting past the possible (even probable) jokes, however, the story of critical and literary-historical theories is quite tangled, and I won't go into the complexities -- not all of which I have kept up with, since "courtly love" began to go out of fashion sometime in, I think, the 1970s, at least as a solution to literary problems, instead of a problem in itself.

There is still a marked change in the attitude toward women, and love affairs, in the period, as compared to previous Old French lyric poetry (not much) and the Old French chansons de geste of the Carolingian Cycle (which themselves were later "romanticised" to keep up with the fashion). Accounting for it remains a problem, even if the old formula has been questioned.

By the way, Gaston Paris read some of his evidence in the wrong order! Apparently, he thought that the great Arthurian prose romances *preceded* Chretien, which meant that he had to read "Lancelot: or, The Knight of the Cart" as a response to the Lancelot-Grail-Mort sequence, with its elaborate Lancelot/Guinevere affair, instead of being one of its (likely) inspirations......

C.S. Lewis, with the advantage of later scholarship, knew better on that score, but still went along with the received scholarly opinion of the 1930s in general, despite catching on to some of the the elaborate (and straight-faced) literary jokes that were part of the medieval literature. His analysis of Chretien's "Lancelot" is insightful, but as a result a little confusing.

By the way, I just voted for Chretien's "Lancelot" for a poetry group reading -- I doubt that it will win, but then, I don't have the verse translation they propose to use, anyway, and may not want to buy it, since I have three prose versions available.

message 3: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia | 522 comments Mod
I saw your vote Ian, I’m SO conflicted. I nominated the Aeneid, and I really really want to groupread that at some point.

But damn, if we can discuss Lancelot with your comments, that would be so awesome. I’m tempted to switch my vote.

message 4: by Ian (last edited Jun 09, 2018 11:10AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Don't switch -- the Aeneid is a good choice (although it is not my favorite ancient classic by a good ways), and well worth discussing.

I was kind of startled that Chretien was on the list to begin with, and wanted to acknowledge the fact. He does deserve to be better known outside of medievalist and Arthurian circles, at least as a major figure in French literature.

(I even have what appears to be an edition of Chretien in normalized Old French -- at least, I can't find any evidence in the Kindle book that it is supposed to be a translation. Alas, my French isn't nearly up to identifying it by possible source without a lot of painful checking against PDFs of nineteenth-century editions I haven't yet undertaken. But it does cite one modern edition (for Lancelot), and the spelling is certainly not standard modern French.

message 5: by Lia (last edited Jun 08, 2018 05:41PM) (new) - added it

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Thanks for the context.

Though... even before seeing this essay, I’ve always thought there’s something strangely masochistic about a lot of medieval/ early modern romance (actually, even Ovidian/ Apuleius/ Petronius stuff seem very very sadomasochistic. I guess the Romance signifier covers these guys.) Cervantes, John Donne, Shakespeare, Romance of the Rose ... they all seem to project codified cruelty into their idea of refined courtship.

Now I want to read CS Lewis!

message 6: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Ian wrote: "I even have what appears to be a modernized edition of Chretien in normalized Old French -- at least, I can't find any evidence in the Kindle book that it is supposed to be a translation..."

I know I can get the Burton Raffel translation of Lancelot from my library. I was looking at a couple of Chretien translations before I spoke to you about “first Arthur” and switched to Malory. Now that I’m sort of done with Book 7 (Gareth), I’m trying to decide what to read next. I probably should read Book 7 again anyway. Or I could try to read the rest of Malory and get used to the weird spellings, or I can bring Chretien home...

We’ll see how the vote turns out. You never know, I was shocked when Aeschylus got 7 votes.

message 7: by Ian (last edited Jun 09, 2018 07:41AM) (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments I wouldn't consider "The Allegory of Love" to be too urgent, although it is, fortunately, back in print after a long hiatus -- and there is even a Kindle version (which used to be much cheaper than it is).

The working title of the book was "Allegorical Love Poetry in the Middle Ages," and, once past the first chapter -- which seems to have been an older essay tacked on to the manuscript after the publisher asked for something like it -- the reader is plunged into the allegorical treatises of late antiquity, like "The Marriage of Mercury and Philology," and early Christian personifications of virtues and vices, before finally reaching the main targets.

Lewis' discussion of "The Romance of the Rose" is still considered important -- even by those who strongly disagree with him on, e.g., the contribution of the digressions in the long "Continuation."

His passing treatment of the Italian Romantic Epics (mainly the "Orlando" poems of Boiardo and Ariosto) makes one long to read them, and that is just a warm-up for Spenser's "The Faerie Queene," which is unquestionably an allegory, but can be read as an adventure story. That chapter likewise bulks large in later Spenser criticism.

Lewis later included a chapter on Spenser for "English LIterature in the Sixteenth Century," and there are five essays in the collection "Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature" (out of fourteen). His short book on "Spenser's Images of Life," was never finished, but was published posthumously. So he never really stopped working on the topic. (And the Chronicles of Narnia are certainly allegories -- although Lewis claimed that he didn't intend them to be, it just sort of happened. Not that his mind was unprepared for thinking in such terms, of course.)

message 8: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Lia wrote: "Thanks for the context. ... Now I want to read C.S. Lewis ..."

I was surprised to find that Amazon has 218 reviews of the Kindle edition of "The Allegory of Love." Of course, most of his other books have accumulated tons of reviews -- he has a vocal following, and some people who feel compelled to register their disagreement. However, this one is pretty esoteric. I suspected that a number of them were simply harvested from reviews of other editions.

This seems to be the case with only a small number. There are, of course, a bunch of "reviews" telling us that "I bought it for X, who loved it!" or "Great book!," and, of course, "Arrived on time!"

But most of them seem to be gathered from other books entirely. Some, if they make sense at all, seem to be referring to his "The Four Loves" -- an easy confusion, possibly made by the reviewer in question -- but others are unmistakably to his Christian apologetics, like "Miracles" and "Mere Christianity," just to cite those which were obvious.

About the only things I didn't see were relevant books, like "The Discarded Image" and "English Literature in the Sixteenth Century," the collections of his essays and reviews on literature, or the (actually allegorical) Chronicles of Narnia.

One complained about the poor Kindle transfer of an unidentifiable book: it may refer to a pirated edition of one or other of his works, which I've complained about on Amazon myself.

(When "Allegory of Love" seemed to have dropped out of print, and dealers were asking outrageous prices, some English departments posted unauthorized pdfs so that their students would have access to an important, if rather dated, critical resource. But I don't think that this was the case here.)

I did identify two reviews I did myself, at long intervals, although this is not immediately evident from the Amazon dates. A third, which fell between the two versions, I couldn't locate at all! (Although it may be there.)

One may be found at
and the other at

I would probably review it somewhat differently these days, mainly because my approach to Amazon reviewing changed over time. But I would want to re-read it thoroughly beforehand, instead of just consulting favorite sections.

message 9: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Thanks for the links, I don’t understand how you find the patience to deal with their glitchy software. If you decide to reread it, I’d love to listen in on your running commentaries and notes.

I have with me a 2013 CUP library copy here, I’m kind of upset it isn’t free on Gutenberg yet! How many more years must I wait?

I don’t know much about the subjects of his analysis (Chaucer, Gower, Faerie Queen, Romance of the Rose...) but they are all on my to-read list. I have read or heard many references to these works though, it would be interesting to compare what different scholars (or opinionated “men of letters”) have to say about them.

I got very excited about allegorical readings of Circe when we were reading Homer. I didn’t understand why scholars have to be so defensive about allegorical interpretations! But the excessive dream interpretations and allegories in Arthurian Cycle is turning me off. Hopefully Lewis will restore my appetite for that.

message 10: by Lia (last edited Jun 09, 2018 08:29AM) (new) - added it

Lia | 522 comments Mod
“ Although Lewis never looses sight of the entertainment value of many of the works he discusses (and some of them never had any)”

Call the burn unit!

message 11: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments I just noticed that HarperCollins has lost track of the history of "The Allegory of Love," at least in the copyright information in its Kindle edition of the book. (Or I may have seen this before, and forgotten it.)

It gives its first publication date as 1961, at almost the end of Lewis' life, and says it was from Cambridge University Press. This apparently refers to a hardcover reprint. The most recent paper edition (2013), a Canto Paperback, is indeed from that publisher.

The real date (as Wikipedia agrees) is much closer to the beginning of Lewis' academic career, 1936 -- and that edition was by Oxford University Press. (A "second edition" published in 1938 is found on Amazon -- I suspect that should be understood as "second printing," apparently a common British usage, at least at the time.)

I think this mis-assignment is a simple mistake made while preparing the Kindle edition, but it *looks* as if someone in the CUP suppressed mention of the rival institution when they took over the book, and HarperCollins just followed the false trail....

message 12: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Real date = 1936... So it *should* be free by now, no?

message 13: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments The US cut-off date for copyrights, and, it seems, trademarks, is 1923: which, by a not-so-strange coincidence, happens to keep key Disney icons under protection (follow the financial contributions). I'm not clear on other nations' legislation, but the cut-off date may move forward, year by year.

The C.S. Lewis estate seems to have assiduously renewed all possible copyrights, so nothing will accidentally fall into the public domain, as seems to have happened to some academic press books. (Sometimes unfortunately, as books which were never very good, and are now completely obsolete, get reprinted by multiple publishers, spreading misinformation.)

So we may have a long time to wait. And it may be that Lewis' output will remain under copyright protection in the US, after it lapses elsewhere.

message 14: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia | 522 comments Mod
:( I didn’t know they can renew copyrights for that long ... but I bet hell is full of cats, because we all know Mickey is going!

message 15: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia | 522 comments Mod
Oh Look:

Pitchfork withdrawn!

I also found another collection of essays called Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature.

message 16: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments Hmmm. Digitalized by the Library of India -- I strongly suspect that they have different standards of copyright protection. (In fact, looking back, I think that some of the copies of Lucy Allen Paton's "Lancelot of the Lake" were theirs, too.)

You might as well try it, if you don't have a library copy: it looks like a nice, clean, text.

The Galaxy Book paperback printing they used may have been the first Lewis book I actually owned -- I read it pretty much to pieces, and marked it up severely. (An advantage of the e-books is that I can highlight and annotate, and leave the text relatively pristine so far as legibility goes. And complete erasure is possible, if somewhat tedious..)

I mentioned the "Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature" back in message 7, as having five essays on Spenser out of fourteen total -- this in connection with Lewis' chapters on "The Faerie Queene" in "Allegory of Love" and the poet in general in "English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Excluding Drama)," which goes by at least one other title in reprints (it was originally part of the Oxford History of English Literature, a huge project which Lewis came to call OHEL). Plus the posthumous "Spenser's Images of Life."

(Lewis also has a nice piece on Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," included in "Selected Literary Essays." He really spent a lot of time working with, and thinking about, allegorical narratives, and how they work in texts composed as allegories.)

With all of that to deal with, I forgot my main point in mentioning it at all -- an interesting essay on the "Morte Darthur," in response to Vinaver's 1947 edition. He is not in complete agreement with the editor.

message 17: by Lia (last edited Jun 09, 2018 03:52PM) (new) - added it

Lia | 522 comments Mod
I pray you, Sir Ian: if this be naughty, please don’t snitch to the publisher!

Also, I found many versions of Lancelot of the Lake, but can’t seem to find the Paton one, if you have a link, please share!

All these titles are so foreign to me, I didn’t connect the dots when I saw the book! But yes, the Morte Darthur essay is also what caught my attention. I haven’t read it yet, but now that you’ve told me what it is about I don’t need to!

I mostly read ebooks / PDF on my tablet these days. If I want a “clean” copy, I just send it to another app/ device (phone or my mac) and choose the “no annotation option.” Apple-pencil + tablet definitely changed the way I read. I’m not as shy about highlighting, summarizing, cutting out snippets to “translate” into my own language in a (virtual) notebook,, writing on the margin, exporting highlights for discussion etc. It’s also much easier to erase embarrassing remarks from first reads.

I might have to burn some of my paper books before someone finds them, given how humiliatingly stupid some of my initial remarks were. I wish ebooks were invented sooner, think of all the trees that had to die to assuage my shame!

message 18: by Ian (new)

Ian Slater (yohanan) | 103 comments For Paton's "Sir Lancelot of the Lake: A French Prose Romance of the Thirteenth Century," see

As author:
"Studies in the Fairy Mythology of Arthurian Romance,"
and also
(two copies with slightly different damage)
This includes a lot of interesting material which is not otherwise accessible in English, or has only become so much more recently.

Finally, a book with an Introduction by Lucy Allen Paton: "Morte Arthur: Two Early English Romances" (the Alliterative Morte Arthure, translated, and the Stanzaic Morte Arthur in Middle English)
I list this mostly to be complete. This is an old Everyman's Library edition, and the scan is rather dark (presumably the pages are discolored). There have been other editions combining the two works, both in Middle English and in translation. Paton does not appear to be the editor, but the topic is not clearly addressed by the publisher.

The first story is more an epic than a romance, and combines Geoffrey of Monmouth's plot with campaign details which may reflect the Hundred Year's War. Malory used it for his "Roman War" (Caxton's Book V), and drew on it again for some of Arthur's final actions. The Winchester MS. has a text more obviously drawn from the alliterative source, so this is of interest in distinguishing Malory's working methods from Caxton's -- always assuming that Caxton actually did the editorial work, and not an unknown scribe (or, just to confuse things, even Malory himself, having second thoughts, although I can't quite imagine him trying to eliminate so much work, when he left some things dangling elsewhere).

The second is drawn mainly from the Vulgate "Mort," and for the most part is pretty closely parallel to Malory's account (with the resumption of the Lancelot/Guinevere affair after the Quest), but with interesting differences in events and how they are portrayed.

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