15.11.08, Delogu, Allegorical Bodies

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Katherine Clark

The Medieval Review 15.11.08

Delogu, Daisy. Allegorical Bodies: Power and Gender in Late Medieval France. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015. pp. 273. ISBN: 978-44-264-1877 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Katherine Clark
The College at Brockport, State University of New York

In Allegorical Bodies, Daisy Delogu offers a fascinating discussion of the emergence of France as a feminized figure at the same time that women were excluded from royal rule, a political sensibility that culminated in the formal promulgation of Salic Law in the fifteenth century. Delogu argues that the apparently paradoxical "simultaneous exile of women from the official exercise of power, and the forceful inscription of female allegorical figures into the political imaginary... both employed gender as a means to conceptualize, define, and shape political communities and structures, to imagine the French body politic, and to generate a population of masculine political subjects" (4). Delogu traces how court writers developed and refined the concept of France as a female allegory through diverse genres, including discourses surrounding the Querelle des Femmes, the political ascendency of the University of Paris under Jean Gerson's leadership in the late fourteenth century, and the crises of the French monarchy during the Hundred Years' War. The rhetorical strategies in the texts Delogu examines tended collectively towards the re-envisioning of douce France as a dame renommée, creating an allegory of France as an imperiled lady whose endangerment during the Hundred Years' War inspired new models of good government and the adoption of Salic Law. The book concludes with some brief reflections on the rise of Joan of Arc as an inspiring, yet dangerous, embodiment of French identity and piety, whose example ultimately underscored the untenable nature of actual feminine power.

Delogu's first chapter, "Allegory is a Woman," outlines her methodological approach in the book and summarizes the "specificity and utility" (15) of feminized representations of the French kingdom and the University of Paris in relation to the serious deficits of Charles VI's kingship. As the kingdom suffered under Charles' madness and the challenge of a rival monarchy, the significant writers of the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries refigured a vision of France as an allegorical entity separate from the king. New, feminized allegories representing the French kingdom and Parisian university engaged contemporary assumptions about the social roles of women and expanded the traditional uses of the genre. Delogu makes a strong case that medieval thought perceived allegory itself as inherently feminine; textual allegory fulfilled a similar mediating function intellectually that 'real' women, particularly royal women, performed socially. Informed by earlier feminized allegories such as Ecclesia and Synagoga, French intellectuals created allegorical representations of France that characterized the kingdom as a courtly lady, a damsel in distress, a beloved mother, and a dutiful daughter.

These feminized images of France were deeply indebted to a cultural mentality that viewed gender as binary. Though writing for different purposes and contexts, authors such as Christine de Pizan, Jean Gerson, Eustache Deschamps, and Alain Chartier created textual images of the French body politic as a feminine 'other.' Such allegories characterized the French kingdom as alienated, distressed, and in need of male caretaking. Delogu skillfully links these works as example of late medieval erudition that responded to a shared sensibility of political crisis. She notes that these authors also share a "near-obsessive" didactic tendency towards "auto-exegesis," a rhetorical strategy by which the narrator "engaged simultaneously in creating and allegorical narrative and interpreting or explaining it as it unfolds" (40). Delogu argues that the crises of Charles VI's reign demanded an "allegorical intervention" that empowered the authors of political commentary to join the elevated tradition of allegory--together with its implications for a divine interpretation of the problems under discussion--to specific contemporary historical events. The institutions they represented--court and University--thus felt empowered or even obligated to offer alternative structures to the faltering monarchy.

Chapter 2 explores the variations on the feminized images of France that gained normative force in late fourteenth century. Eustache Deschampes' Ballades presented wide-ranging images of France as an orphan, widow, ward, or inheritance of the French king, but these various images were unified in their effect of transforming "the silent object of previous poets' apostrophes into a speaking, moving, living representation of the kingdom" (47). Christine de Pizan's Livre de l'advision Cristine, by contrast, asserted a singular version of maternal France as the kingdom's definitive identity. Delogu emphasizes that the ubiquity of hierarchical binary gender norms assisted the characterization of a feminized kingdom because it delineated the duties the (masculine) ruler and subject must perform to restore proper order in the body politic. Most significantly, the image of an eternal and stable France defined the appropriate conduct for the French subject independent of the King himself, and provided divine remediation to the uncertainty that arose through the frailties of the contemporary monarchy. Whether the male king or subject exercised filial piety toward a maternal France, or offered protection to France as a damsel in distress, these allegorical examples re-imagined the relationship of the reader to the kingdom, and prescribed appropriate responses based on ingrained assumptions about gender roles and behavior.

Delogu's discussion of Jean Gerson's vernacular sermons in Chapter 3 is particularly important because Gerson introduced an institutional as well as allegorical alternative to royal political authority: the University of Paris. Granted royal recognition in 1200 by Philip Augustus and distinguished by the title fille du roy (daughter of the King) in 1358, the University occupied an increasingly tense position in royal and papal politics in the wake of the Great Schism (1378-1417). Gerson cultivated an image of the University of Paris as the King's most faithful daughter who is also a competent royal advisor and caretaker of good governance on the king's behalf. As the fille du roy, the allegorical figure of the University conjoined a number of important elements in Gerson's legal and theological writing, including both familial themes such as adoption and kinship on the one hand, and structures of social order and the nature of kingship on the other. As the chosen offspring of the king, the University was both an obedient daughter, whose progeny provided the King with scholars and knowledge, and a useful servant. The confluence of these themes embodied in the feminized filial piety of the University allowed Gerson to "assert the authority of this institution to represent the kingdom and guide the king's rule... Metaphorically, the University is a mystical body that is analogous to both king and kingdom, and serves as an intermediary between the two" (123).

The final two chapters of Allegorical Bodies examine the transformation of the discourse on a feminized allegory of kingdom that arose in the later years of the Hundred Years' War. The adoption of Salic Law as an instrument of national identity related closely to disputes over French succession through the female line that arose in the late fourteenth century. These concerns intensified following the Treaty of Troyes in May 1420, when Charles VI designated Henry V of England as his adopted son through Henry's marriage to Charles' daughter Catherine, diverting the line of succession from the Dauphin, the future Charles VII.

Writing in the first two decades of the fifteenth century, Jean de Montreuil, who is considered the "inventor" of Salic Law, formulated a legal doctrine of feminine exclusion rooted in Salian Frankish custom specifically to demonstrate that this tradition pre-dated English claims to the French throne. Delogu suggests that Jean's interest in Salic Law and the exclusion of women derived less from misogynistic discourse per se than a discourse of political rhetoric deeply concerned with "the penetration of the French body politic by foreign elements... Royal women, who marry foreign men and bear their children, are the means by which France is rendered vulnerable to domination, contamination, and miscegenation" (138). Salic Law thus provided the textual nostrum to heal the ailing body politic and render it impermeable to foreign influence. The English occupation of France in 1418 and the crisis of succession following the 1420 Treaty, however, introduced a devastating blow to this process, and courtiers such as Alain Chartier and Jean Juvénal des Ursins expressed the amplified anxiety generated at the prospect of rule by a foreign king through gendered discourses. Chartier's Quadrilogue invectif, a vernacular dream vision, presented the lamentations of France as a crowned but tattered lady who lamented the errors of her "children" (the people, the knights, and the clergy). The lady offered a corrective to these problems in the proper understanding of "nature" and "natural" relationships among the tripartite orders of the kingdom. Jean Juvénal described his own dream vision in response to the Treaty of Troyes, Audite celi, in which he narrated a conversation of female allegories representing France, England, the Holy Church as well as vices and virtues such as Sedition and Good Counsel. This version of France is knowledgeable about the law and history of her kingdom; she "affirms national boundaries and serves to establish and proclaim the unity and coherence of the kingdom of France, which includes her errant prince, Philip the Good, and his duchy of Burgundy" (128).

As French jurists and intellectuals responded to the Treaty of Troyes, they created narratives that defended French royal succession on the basis of antiquity, "natural" law, and a corporate understanding of France. Delogu argues that allegories of a feminized France enabled these goals because the discourse" defines and stages political spaces that are likewise presented as natural... it is the nature, as it were, of what we might call the doxa to mask the processes of its own fabrication, to make an alternative position or course of action appear not only wrong, but impossible, unthinkable, unnatural" (166).

The "overdetermined" feminine qualities of allegorical France thus naturally invited masculine domination; a feminine France presented a roadmap and vision for how she might be governed by both a male king and male subjects. The successful allegories of female France as "courtly beloved, damsel in distress, noble widow, tearful mother... [called] forth the affection and loyalty of the publics interpellated by the allegory, and therefore they reinforce and comfort traditional notions of masculinity" even as they acknowledged or compensated for the literal weakness or absence of the reigning king (177). In the coda to the book, "What to Say about Joan of Arc," Delogu suggests that unlike allegorical France, Joan, as a 'real' woman who performed masculine behavior, destabilized the prevailing male-female binary in ways that threatened the king (and kingdom's) masculinity rather than created a theoretical space to manifest it.

In Allegorical Bodies, Daisy Delogu offers a rich analysis of the complicated uses of allegory in the literary circles of late medieval France. She is admirably sensitive to historical context and skillfully connects the intellectual traditions and structures of the texts she examines to their authors' situations and agendas, and to the audiences for whom they were intended. Her elucidation of these texts provides a good foundation for readers who are interested in pursuing more deeply the pastoral and educational contexts in which increasingly complex and florid allegorical motifs addressed pressing social and political concerns and questions. Delogu's discussion of "auto-exegesis" in the works of Christine de Pizan, for example, invites further consideration of how this process relates to the more personal and self-revelatory aspects of her writing, in particular the relationship between Christine's accounts of her own lived gender experiences and her allegorical treatment of gender in the Livre de l'advision Cristine and elsewhere.

Delogu's work is also interesting for her firm insistence on a binary approach to gender analysis. She begins the book with an assertion that the book is a study of the rhetorical uses of gender rather than the experiences of actual women, because

the gender binary that has pervaded thought and culture from the Middle Ages to our own times provides a ready-made and almost universally accepted hierarchy which can be deployed in a range of other contexts to express ideas about the respective situations of persons or groups. The allegorical figures of France and the University of Paris conform to normative paradigms of femininity and of sexuality that provide of model of natural and appropriate political conduct" (14).

This interpretive stance may draw criticism from some readers who refute the two-gender model and instead see a spectrum of gender expression in medieval and early modern history. Delogu's sources, however, clearly embrace a binary view of gender as an obvious and ready tool of hegemony, essential to the ordering French politics and society. Joan of Arc's inability to fit into one or the other of these two structuring categories greatly contributed to her downfall (despite, incidentally, the support for her cause by Jean Gerson). The works under consideration here demonstrate that the political authors of late medieval France were singularly unconcerned with representing class and gender in all the diversity in which it was lived, but rather as it ought to be in order to remedy their perceptions of an ailing society and monarchy. In this case, the seemingly endless patterns of female subordination offered in a binary understanding of the genders were precisely the tools necessary to build a successful allegory of the French nation.

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