19.08.16 Mikhaïlova-Makarius, Le présent de Marie

Main Article Content

Ellen Thorington

The Medieval Review 19.08.16

Mikhaïlova-Makarius, Milena. Le Présent de Marie: Lecture des Lais de Marie de France. Courant critique. Geneva, Switzerland: Droz, 2018. pp. 168. ISBN: 978-2-600-05927-5 (paperback).

Reviewed by:
Ellen Thorington
Ball State University
emthorington@bsu.edu

This second edition of Milena Mikhaïlova-Makarius's Le présent de Marie: Lecture des Laisde Marie de France (Droz: 2018) offers a rich reading of Marie's twelfth-century Lais. The author has reworked her introduction, added a bibliography and refined her argument throughout. Mikhaïlova-Makarius focuses on the Lais as a whole, playing on the notion of "present" in the sense of both time and gift. Basing her argument in a careful reading of the Prologue, Mikhaïlova-Makarius sees the act of writing and composition as Marie's way of participating in jointure (joining) and largesse as a way to overcome déchirure (fracture). She makes the case that Marie intended the Lais as a thematically unified collection that bring together past and present, and repair déchirure through jointure in order to forge a "granz biens."

Mikhaïlova-Makarius divides her discussion into five chapters, each of which analyzes a set of lais. The chapters can be read as separate essays; however, the work is unified and a cover-to-cover reading reveals the logical progression of Mikhaïlova-Makarius's argument. The first chapter explores dépiecement (cutting apart) and intégrité (wholeness) in the lais of Guigemar and Yonec demonstrating that each instance of rupture (e.g., Guigemar's wound) has its healing binary (e.g., his initiation in love). Geographic space itself is parallel, for in each case, the lady's prison is the lover's magical dreamlike otherworld, and her otherworld is his reality. Mikhaïlova-Makarius's discussion of Yonec introduces a main theme of her argument: composition and aural-textual transmission of a story (here of Yonec's birth) allows for continuity between past and present, and a way to keep truth from being forgotten. Mikhaïlova-Makarius links this to Marie's own role as gift-giver whose retelling of these stories brings them into her own present, keeps them from oblivion and makes them live again in her Lais.

The second chapter examines the lais of Deux Amanz, Fresne, and Milun through the lens of paternal sterility. In the first two lais, parental failures cut off a child from her rightful destiny. Only generosity and forgiveness surmount the rupture that ensues and enable both storytelling and memory (or memorializing). Naming and re-fertilization overcome the death of the lovers in Deux Amanz, giving new life to their story. This is a granz biens: just as the mountain flowers anew thanks to the magic potion, the lovers' story flowers in Marie's retelling. In Fresne, Fresne's gift of her coverlet to her lover and his bride is an act of supreme generosity and pardon. These overcome her mother's crime and the sterility of Fresne's name. By allowing memory to flourish, they restore her identity. These themes of fertility recall Marie's own project: writing is the act of creation (trover) and naming (the lai, the lost daughter); it finds what is hidden and composes and glosses the sens. Mikhaïlova-Makarius's discussion of Milun also explores the theme of generosity as the means by which father and son are reunited. The son's gifts to his father of life and subsequently of forgiveness, restore their relationship, permitting the ultimate jointure when the son gives his mother to his father in marriage. From rupture, forgiveness and generosity bring (re)union.

Mikhaïlova-Makarius's discussion of Equitan and Bisclavret (chapter 3) focuses on justice. She argues that Equitan is a lai "à l'envers" (91) where the lai genre and the love story are turned upside-down becoming instead a fabiliau-esque tale of justice. This inversion of genres is echoed within the lai, as the king and his seneschal switch places. The king forgets his duties; the seneschal, in contrast, is left to uphold the law. From the moral degradation and disorder caused by the lack of restraint on the part of the lovers and the resulting inversions, the husband's actions reassert order from confusion, rescuing lai from fabliau. The discussion of Bisclavret examines similar transpositions: the wife displays bestiality in human form while her werewolf husband demonstrates his humanity in bestial form. Although forgiveness seems impossible in this case, Mikhaïlova-Makarius likens the punishment, when Bislcavret bites off his wife's nose, to leprosy. Seen in this light, the punishment allows the wife to expiate her sins. It is a gift in its own way, and this largesse (her noselessness, and that of some of her female descendants) becomes the visual symbol that puts her sin and its expiation into memory.

Naming and dépiècement are at issue in chapter 4, which considers Chativel, Laüstic and Chievrefoil. In Chativel the lady's inability to differentiate between her four suitors leads to the death of three and the maiming of the fourth. While she tries to reunite them under one name, the Quatre doels, the maimed knight suggests the name Chativel, which memorializes his suffering and maintains his now unique identity. Both possibilities surmount tragedy through poetic creation; the ultimate naming of the lai reveals Marie's sens. This same technique is at work in Laüstic, where the nightingale's appearance in the story and then immediate execution is a dépiècement that can only be healed through acts of jointure: first, the lady's gift to her lover (message and object) of the dead nightingale and embroidered cloth; second, the lover's understanding and memorializing of that gift, and finally Marie's own retelling of their story. Marie's lai is a gift of eloquence and song which breaks silence to ensure both an oral and a written transmission, and triumphs over death to create memory. The discussion of Chievrefoil explores diversion and detour as a means to jointure. From the detour within the forest that will permit the lovers to see each other, to the cut branch which becomes the means of their joining, to the detour through memory that enables the queen to understand the message Tristan sends, to the narrative detour which separates the cut branch from its message within the text, each element in the story takes an alternate path on its way to jointure both within the lai, and within the intertwined symbol of the honeysuckle and the hazel tree. This joining, within Tristan's song and Marie's lai, assembles the pieces and the sens, and allows them to live anew.

The last chapter examines the notion of largesse in Eliduc, Lanval, and the Prologue itself. In Eliduc, the exchange of gifts is fundamental. Guildaluëc gifts Eliduc with the life of Guilliadon, and then, with both forgiveness and the freedom to marry his new love. The lovers return her gift in kind when they ultimately decide to offer their lives to God and to her by withdrawing from the world. Following on the importance of gift-giving, Mikhaïlova-Makarius discusses the Prologue to the Lais as a treatise on poetic generosity. She argues that Marie sees the gift of wisdom and eloquence as divine but as imbued with obligation: one must share a granz biens. Marie's gift to the king makes her both generous and generatrix (146). She provides him with a "present" of her Lais; this present is intended to take root in his heart and find new life (146). Keeping notions of courtly largesse in mind, Mikhaïlova-Makarius turns toLanval where King Arthur's lack of generosity leaves Lanval forgotten. Only the fairy's willingness to intervene and to forgive Lanval for his faults, saves him from oblivion, reestablishes truth, and rights the injustice within the feudal world. Mikhaïlova-Makarius sees Marie's act of writing as more than just a gift to the king: it is an act of courtly generosity akin to that of Lanval's fairy. Hidden within sources, the author is a creator figure in the image of God and of the fairy, whose generosity allows past, present and future to come together (153).

Mikhaïlova-Makarius concludes that this notion of generosity, of a granz biens, serves as the common thread that hold the Lais together as a collection. She argues that Marie sees largesse as the way to bring together the past and her own time with that of her reader. The weaving together of jointure and don with their accompanying themes become for Mikhaïlova-Makarius a melody, like the song of the troubadours, which Marie offers to us for our listening pleasure.

Mikhaïlova-Makarius's second edition brings this fine reading of Marie's Lais up to date through the addition of a bibliography and incorporation of recent scholarship. Roger Dragonetti's introduction has been dropped from this edition, making the work more fully the author's own. The welcome incorporation of recent scholarship covers the majority of works relevant to the author's argument. Nevertheless, it might have been useful to include a mention of Carla Rossi's important recent work on Marie's identity. Overall, Mikhaïlova-Makarius's argument is enlightening, and she makes an excellent case for the Lais as a work unified through the notion of generosity. Her argument is convincing and based in a well-researched thematic and semantic analysis. A fuller consideration of rhetorico-poetic devices might have enhanced this already rich discussion: chiasmus, rhyme and enjambment, which Marie uses in abundance, are all figures of poetic jointure. Nevertheless, these are minor considerations in such a valuable contribution to our understanding of the work of Marie de France and the granz biens that flows from Marie's Lais to our own time.

Article Details

Section
Reviews