The Medieval Review 10.06.04

Doggett, Laine E. Love Cures: Healing and Love Magic in Old French Romance. Penn State Romance Studies. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009. Pp. 291. 75.00 ISBN 978-0-271-03530-7. .

Reviewed by:

Martha Rampton
Pacific University

Love Cures is an analysis of several high medieval romances, Cliges, the Roman de Silence, Amadas and Ydoine, and a collection of closely related Tristan and Iseut narratives. The author is interested in the intersection of love, healing and love magic in selected romance texts and argues that representations of love are indebted to, in fact reflect, actual twelfth- and thirteenth- century empirical practices and cultural and societal realities, meaning "observable phenomena that audiences experienced" (4). She claims that in medieval society of the time women medics were "often well known and highly respected in their communities" (4) and argues, "The romances depict empirics in a manner consistent with the picture sketched by historians of medicine and magic" (262). A secondary theme of the book concerns the tension between love and court expectations and how it plays out in marriage. She argues that the dynamic between love and "feudal" politics in romance texts gives female protagonists "choice" in marriage (31).

The book begins with a review of the changing scholarly approach to magic, courtly love and marriage patterns, which she invites the medieval scholar to pass over because much of it is well-trodden ground. Here we read of the evolution of the complex of magic and science from older studies by scholars like Lynn Thorndike to more recent works by Edward Peters, Richard Kieckhefer and Karen Jolly, who demonstrate the rationality of magic and the conflation of magic and medicine in the medieval worldview.

In the second chapter, Doggett analyses Cliges and how the female empiric, Thessala, empowers the lovers to realize their passion. Healing, although often masked as magic (and interpreted as merely magical by some historians), is actually the workings of legitimate therapeutics. She claims that Thessala is not a witch and debunks other scholars' notion that the character is indebted to classical sorceresses, such as Medea. Chapters three and four take up the famous and influential story of Tristan and Iseut in Folie de Tristan de Berne and works by Thomas d'Angleterre and Beroul, and explore the dimensions of Iseut's role as Tristan's healer. The author deftly negotiations the puzzle of Thomas d'Angleterre's fragmentary text and its relationship to other Tristan manuscripts. She is able to plumb Thomas' romance by making comparisons with works such as Folie de Tristan de Berne and narratives by Robert of Norway, Eilhart von Oberge, and Beroul.

Chapter five examines the thirteenth-century Roman de Silence. Although its plot is indebted to the Tristan legends, the potion as "love stimulant" has disappeared and the conceit of "the beloved as medicine" takes its place. In addition to her exploration of love sickness, Doggett begins to more fully develop the theme that romance literature mirrors "feudal" marriage expectations and conflicts. The Roman de Silence creates a tension between personal emotions and the value of loyalty and comes down on the side of the importance of political stability and communal values. This aspect of Doggett's analysis is imaginative and persuasive; however, I would have liked an explanation of what she means by "feudal" given the thorny problems with the term raised in Susan Reynolds's Fiefs and Vassals: The Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted.

Chapter six is an excellent and lively treatment of Amadas et Ydoine as a spoof or grotesque treatment of traditional romance motifs. Here the motif of 'the beloved as medicine" found in previous texts continues, but as a travesty. Ydoine's remedies (kisses, proximity to the love-sick Amadas, and the very mention of Ydoine's name) are much too effective, jolting a boy who has long been languishing in madness back to full health in an instant. Ydoine is not an empiric, per se, but she has all the hallmarks of the traditional female medic, which are well known from earlier romances.

Doggett is at her best when working with analysis of the texts. Her discussion of the way healing is represented in the romances is excellent. Doggett's construction of the ministrations of Thessala, the empiric, demonstrates that the character's healing abilities are realistic and that women's medicine in the text is meant to be read as a positive force that allows love to flower. In Tristan and Iseut's story, the potion that induces romantic love is, Doggett argues, not magic but an herbal mixture that brings on euphoria and relaxes inhibitions, permitting intimacy to develop. Later redactions of the story omit mention of Iseut as healer, but this motif continues to be palpable in the background of the tale. With the Folie de Tristan de Berne a phenomenon begins to appear in the story, which is the absorption of the female protagonist's medicine with her very essence as "the beloved." "In the character of Iseut...the notions of healing and deep solace begin to accrete to the image of the beloved" (161). This association is also at play in the Roman de Silence where "empirical knowledge stands to be obscured behind the simple power of love" (208). This aspect of Doggett's analysis is careful and convincing. She astutely observes that the conflation of the beloved as medicine "constitute[s] a major source for the linkage between love and empirical practice in medieval literature" (165). When she focuses her discussion on elements of literature, Doggett's work challenges some traditional assumptions and she builds a cogent rationale for doing so.

The element of Doggett's argument that is less persuasive comes when she moves beyond the texts to the "real" world, "real" meaning "accurate perceptions of events" (83). She claims that the practice of medicine in the texts emulates healing in the society in which each romance was written. Corollary to this, she argues that attitudes towards therapeutics evident in high medieval romance shaped contemporary healing practices and the movement of "medicine towards professionalization" (86). Romance literature was a catalyst for the changed "relationship between medical theory and practice of the thirteenth century" (8), and "may have contributed to the later exclusion of women from medical practice" (267). Doggett does not provide enough information about the "real" world background of the stories for the reader to follow her logic or judge whether in fact healing in the romances reflects medicine in the world, and more, problematically, how it changed the medieval audiences' perceptions of therapeutics. For example, Doggett opines, "The link between healing and love portrayed in romance may also contribute to the fourteenth- century increasing marginalization of empirical healers" (207). This is quite a claim, and it is not substantiated with sufficient evidence. Further, in her discussion of the Roman de Silence, she makes a tenuous argument that although Euphemie is nowhere described as an empiric, the text is nonetheless reflective of historical circumstances of the era because professionalization of medicine had not yet become the norm and licensure was not required in order for a person to be fully recognized as a competent doctor, so the character could be read as an empiric despite the text's silence on the matter. This is an example of the putative correspondence between life and literature that I find unpersuasive. The author needs more proof of actual cause and effect when she claims "empirical practices common to the high Middle Ages could have been used by women denied a voice in marriage to influence the marriage political at court" (265).

A second concern is that Doggett, in her effort to defend her claim that the healing scenes in the texts are to be taken literally, has challenged quite an august body of secondary literature by authors who cull multiple levels of meaning from the healings scenes. Doggett recognizes at several points that empirical practice in the texts is not "an unmediated reflection of the world" (264); healing is both naturalistic and symbolic, but at times this fact gets lost in the author's enthusiasm to demonstrate her point, and she sets up binaries between the "real" and the metaphor. She sometimes misses or subverts the complexity of and tension between symbols and what they signify. She strives too hard, at times, to find a one-on-one correspondence between action in the world and meaning in the texts, a tendency she seems to recognize on page 264. For example she says of the potion in Cliges that it is "entirely chemical" (53).

This book is very insightful and convincing on the subject of the literary depiction of medicine, yet its title is Love Cures. It seems to be misnamed. Not only is magic a secondary consideration in the book, but Doggett all but denies that magic is a factor in the healing scenes. She is careful to demonstrate that magic in the period was fully rational, but is quick to insist that the cures in the texts are naturalistic, not magical, because she wants to save them from a stigma of irrationality. Several episodes Doggett outlines from the texts seem to be clearly magical, and her efforts to equate them with naturalist healing are unconvincing. She rightly notes that for the people of the Middle Ages the understanding of magic and medicine--potion and poison--overlapped, and much that is marvelous and unbelievable in the texts ought to be read as practical and grounded in contemporary medical practice. I do not take issue with her there; she is certainly right to refer to Richard Kieckhefer's and Karen Jolly's works on the subject, but it might have been nice if she also used more recent treatments of medieval magic and medicine by Claire Fanger, Heidi Breuerand, Geraldine Heng, and Monica Green, to name a few. These authors would also have helped her with her gender analysis. By chapter five, discussion of magic has dropped away almost entirely until it is taken up again in the discussion of Adamdas and Ydoine. Magic plays essentially no role in Doggett's treatment of "feudal" marriage policy.

Despite some problems with aspects of Doggett's premise, Love Cures is an interesting, readable, and valuable contribution to the literature on healing in the romance tradition. Her summaries of the narratives are lucid and lively. She elucidates the intricate and multivalent roles of female empirics in the texts she examines and convinces readers that they ought not be read as 'witches'. Scholars and students alike will profit from many elements in Doggett's discussion.