contributor.author: Andrew Traver

title.none: Maddox, Fictions of Identity in Medieval France (Andrew Traver)

identifier.other: baj9928.0110.011 01.10.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Andrew Traver, Southeastern Louisiana University, atraver@selu.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Maddox, Donald. Fictions of Identity in Medieval France. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. iv, 295. 69.95. ISBN: 0-512-78105-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.10.11

Maddox, Donald. Fictions of Identity in Medieval France. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. iv, 295. 69.95. ISBN: 0-512-78105-1.

Reviewed by:

Andrew Traver
Southeastern Louisiana University
atraver@selu.edu

Donald Maddox, in Fictions of Identity in Medieval France, considers the construction of identity in a wide range of French vernacular fiction from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. He focuses on the crucial encounter--a familiar topos in medieval literature--in which characters are on the verge of making an extraordinary discovery about themselves, their circumstances, and their identities. These dramatic encounters and their concomitant unanticipated disclosures, referred to as specular encounters, always occur at a major intersection of a character's conception of selfhood with a crucial new perspective on his or her own identity.

In this study, Maddox offers a wide range of medieval "fictions of identity" by examining texts that at some critical juncture afford particular emphasis to matters of identity. In this manner, Maddox provides several interesting case studies for the scope and the significance of the specular encounter. His purpose, admittedly, is not to compile an inventory of specular encounters. Rather, he explores a substantial and varied assortment of narratives in which the specular encounter is most frequently in evidence.

In Chapter One, Maddox examines the role of the specular encounter in the Lais of Marie de France. Maddox argues that the specular encounter assumes the principal accessory role in bringing a highly characteristic closing configuration in each lai. He discovers here a pattern of "fiction of reciprocity" in which the specular encounter is instrumental in the establishment of a reciprocal relationship toward which the story develops. Thus the specular encounter provides the crucial locus of transition essential to the story's resolution. Moreover, Maddox explains how the role of the specular encounters in the twelve lais allows them to cohere as a unified collection.

In Chapter Two, Maddox examines the five romances of Chretien de Troyes ( Erec et Enide, Cliges, Le Chevalier au lion, Le Chevalier de la charette, and the Conte du graal). Here Maddox sees the specular encounter as an example of a "textuality of crisis" as the specular encounter is used in segments of major crisis. In Chretien therefore, the specular encounter operates as a critical transition between two sections. Elsewhere in Chapter Two, Maddox looks at the schema's fortune in later Arthurian works, including Le Bel Inconnu and the Prose Lancelot.

In Chapter Three, Maddox explores the specular encounter in the trysts of courtly fictions. In this chapter, he focuses on four works: Chretien's Le Chevalier de la charette, Beroul's Roman de Tristan, the Oxford Folie Tristan, and La Chastelaine de Vergi. Here he argues that the specular encounter provides a locus for the analysis, primarily in passages of direct discourse, of circumstantial evidence brought to light in the aftermath of a tryst. This evidence usually involves the erroneous apprehension of the plausible as true and thus provides a new dimension for the specular encounter by juxtaposing the possible with the truth.

In Chapter Four, Maddox explores the specular encounter as a vehicle of identity pertaining both to identity and lineage. This chapter concentrates on La Fille du Comte de Pontieu and Jean d'Arras' Roman de Melusine.

What Maddox has written is a highly informative and interesting work. He offers many new perspectives on the socio-cultural implications of identity and shows how they appear, in various degrees, throughout selected vernacular French texts.