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"Pour un petit de nice semblant": distance and desire in Christine de Pizan's Le Livre du Duc des vrais amans.

In her lyric poetry cycles, Christine de Pizan creates a narrator-poet who firmly distances herself from the poetic material of love, insisting that she has nothing in common with the lovers who recount their joys and their sorrows in the poems she writes. This thematized lack of interest in love contrasts with the practice common from the very inception of the medieval love lyric, which was for narrator-poets to draw their inspiration and authority precisely from their own experiences of love. (1) The lyric tradition of poetic sincerity was based on the assumption that poets were personally moved by the emotions they expressed. Roger Dragonetti describes a topos, or cliche, like love, as a "lien d'entente pre-etablie entre le poete et son public" and explains that such "liens" operate because both parties, the poet and the audience, participate in the emotion conveyed: "un cliche n'opere donc que s'il est dynamique, si par consequent, capable de toucher, d'emouvoir d'abord le poete, il peut eveiller ensuite le public aux memes sentiments, au meme ideal, vecu en commun." (2)

Christine's narrator-poet eschews any intimate relationship with Amours, breaking with tradition. And yet, she too bases her poetic authority on her own experience, foregrounding an autobiographical element that strikes many readers as more poignant than the ones proposed by traditional love lyricists. She is not in the throes of love at the time she writes, but Christine has indeed known love and lost it: not to betrayal, but to death. Although she refuses identification with her lovers, her mourning widow narrator-poet, sad, but wise, haunts the love lyrics, setting up an implicit analogy with her lovers and offering a rich paradigm for unhappiness in love. Thus Christine's love poetry cannot be reduced to a critique of the love practiced at the courts for which she composed. For the reader leaves her lyric cycles, not with the message that worldly love is to be despised and abjured, but with the more ambivalent one that love stories inevitably participate in the universal story of worldly mutability under the reign of Fortune. Because it is part of the transitory world, love is overwhelmingly beautiful but fleeting. Christine's grieving narrator is fully aware of love's vast power to bring joy and its equally vast power to bring sorrow. She thus recounts love's sublimity, but simultaneously laments its capacity to destroy.

In this essay I will propose that the role of Sebille de la Tour in Le Livre du Duc des vrais amans be considered an example of a similar narratorial strategy. Sebille's purpose, I will suggest, is not to criticize the love practiced at the courts--a purpose long attributed to her. One critic has written that it is impossible to "find a clearer statement of Christine's most fundamental objections to the whole concept of courtly love." (3) But exposing the folly of lovers is not Sebille's function, any more than it is the function of Christine's love lyric narrator. As I will attempt to demonstrate here, Sebille can be more accurately viewed as part of an intricate dialectic that ultimately reveals both the unavoidable pleasures and pitfalls of human love than as a simple adversary of "courtly" love.

Judging by the total number of lines allotted her, Sebille de Monthault, Dame de la Tour, is a character of negligible importance in Christine's oeuvre. And yet this former governess with her highly developed sense of moral obligation towards her erstwhile charge and her talent for expressing herself persuasively in formal written language has been granted a far greater authority by modern critics than her brief appearances would seem to warrant. Although her literary existence is limited to a single letter of which she is said to be the author, a letter twice repeated in two separate works, Sebille creates a lasting impression. She is not one to mince words. Love is perilous for women, and anyone who says otherwise is lying, she insists: "Ha! ma dame, pour Dieu, soies avisee que teles foles oppinions ne vous decoivent! Car quant a la plaisance, soies certaine que en amours a cent mille fois plus de dueil, de cuisancons et dangiers perilleux, par especial du coste des dames...." (4)

The two works in which Sebille's letter figures, however, could not be more different from each other. It appears first in a collection of courtly love lyric and prose known as Le Livre du Duc des vrais amans (hereafter Le Duc), composed 1403-5, and then in a mirror for female conduct, Le Livre des Trois vertus (hereafter Trois vertus), composed 1405. It is not known for whom Le Duc was written. In the prologue, Christine claims to have written the work at the request of someone nicknamed the "Duc des Vrays Amoureux"; whether or not such a person existed remains a mystery. In any case, the work must have been intended for a courtly audience like the one that enjoyed her love lyrics. Trois vertus, in contrast, dedicated to the young dauphine, Marguerite of Burgundy, is generally believed to represent a serious guide to good behavior after the manner of Le Menagier de Paris. The letter is for all practical purposes identical in the two works. (5) If one lifts it from the works in which it appears and reads it alone, isolated from any literary context, its intention is unmistakable: it is a straightforward warning to women against getting involved in love affairs. The message of the letter is equally unambiguous in the environment of Trois vertus, a work whose narratorial strategy is relatively simple. The narrator Christine in this work presents herself as an authority on appropriate female behavior. The advice of this narrator follows from her assumption that out of self-interest women will want to practice what Rosalind Brown-Grant has referred to as a "politics of visibility," which means holding themselves above the reproach of even the most misogynistic critics through their exemplary behavior. (6) In this context, Sebille's letter represents an amplification of the points Christine the narrator herself presents on the folly of engaging in love affairs.

The letter's role in Le Duc, however, is far more complex, I will argue. First the narratorial strategy in this story of a failed love affair is complicated, with Christine presenting herself as the unwilling teller of a tale she has been asked to recount by the "Duc des vrays amoureux." The letter is just one intervention, a brief interruption in this collection of lyrics and short prose works that otherwise glorify love, at least up until the very last distressed lyrics, where the lady and the Duke describe a falling-out. It is never absolutely clear whose voice should be read as authoritative. Furthermore, although the letter explicitly warns against the love affair in which the two central characters are engaged, Christine problematizes Sebille's critique of selfish male lovers: far from dismantling the love the characters profess for each other, Sebille's letter reinforces it by reproducing the construal of desire upon which the rest of the work is based, conceding that men are helpless to control their passion. (7) Moreover, the letter insists that women, just like men, are victims of their passion. In re-inscribing in her letter the "courtly love" economy of uncontrollable passion upon which the love story of Le Duc is premised, Sebille represents it as inevitable, naturalizes it, and implicitly suggests, as she must according to her own logic, that the only way for women to subvert desire is to lead a life absolutely separate from men--at least psychologically separate.

Le Livre des trois vertus

Although composed after Le Duc and explicitly borrowing Sebille's letter from that work, Trois vertus, a practical as opposed to theoretical book of instruction in appropriate behavior for women, does not problematize Sebille's negative assessment of men. Passion plays no role in this book. Rather, the premise here is that women are reasonable creatures, capable of making rational choices about how to conduct themselves.

In this setting Sebille's words appear in the guise of a model letter for governesses. The principal duty of a governess vis-a-vis her charge is to prevent her from drifting into love affairs, instructs Christine the narrator, for love affairs can only lead to disaster. No rational woman would get involved in one of them. But young women sometimes act irrationally. What should a governess do when this is the case? How can she prevent her charge from abandoning herself to amorous pursuits? If the young woman truly cannot be brought to her senses, Christine advises the governess simply to leave. No matter how much a governess may love her charge, she cannot save a young woman who refuses to listen to reason. Still, as Christine concedes, though a governess might be forced to give up and leave in despair, her love for her charge will not necessarily diminish. She will continue to feel love's bonds: she "sera contrainte par grant amour, quelque bon gre ou mal gre qu'avoir en doye" (110).

This is the context in which Christine offers Sebille's letter, holding it up as a model according to which a desperate governess might put forth one last attempt to bring the young woman to her senses and help her escape from her lover with her honor still intact. Often the written word is more effective than the spoken for inducing rationality. This is because, as Christine explains: "ce qui est escript en lettres est aucunes foiz mieulx retenue et plus perce le cuer que ce qui est dit de bouche ..." (110).

The moral values of Christine's narratorial persona of Trois vertus are generally believed to reflect closely those of her historical counterpart. Moreover, Sebille in her role of governess helping to keep her young lady on the straight and narrow path of correct behavior can be seen as a sort of mise en abyme of the entire work's objective, Liliane Dulac has suggested.
  In fact, the governess's function is a sort of mirror of the mission
  that Christine takes on in her work. The wise lady has the charge of
  instructing the princess, notably in a large number of particularly
  delicate and perilous situations. And that is precisely what the
  author claims to be doing herself in her treatise: reviewing precise
  and well-defined situations as a kind of moral handbook for
  noblewomen. (8)


The letter in the environment of the Trois vertus poses no interpretive problems. Reflecting the historical Christine's confidence in female rationality, it urges women to exercise this faculty and avoid adulterous liaisons, which can only bring them unhappiness.

Le Livre du Duc des vrais amans

As part of the collection of love poetry and prose letters that make up Le Duc, however, the letter presents some difficulties. Because Le Duc, like other of Christine's courtly love writings, (and unlike Trois vertus), expresses multiple perspectives, the reader cannot be certain whether Christine means to offer a final word on love affairs in this collection (and if so, what exactly that final word would be), or whether she simply means to acknowledge both the pros and the cons of love affairs. As Earl Jeffrey Richards has described it: "Rather than being a displaced monologue, the work is fundamentally dialogic and ultimately dialectical, but its dialogue and dialectic cannot be reduced to a scheme of deceptive male discourse versus truthful female speech." (9) The weight Sebille's letter should be seen to carry among the plurality of voices in Le Duc has aroused critical debate, with some seeing the letter's message as no more authoritative than the one expressed by the lovers in a work that ultimately reinforces the values of courtly society regarding love, or at least acknowledges the legitimacy of some of its values, and others seeing its message as part of a strategy to denounce "courtly" love. (10)

Each interpretation presents its own problems. The notion of Sebille as just one voice among others, as the jarring note in a work that ultimately re-enforces the courtly value of a young man's love for a married woman, seems implausible in light of the attitude towards love affairs that Christine expresses in Trois vertus, where her narratorial persona strikes the reader so strongly as a mouthpiece for the historical Christine's moral values. Not only is the name "Sebille" suggestive, particularly given that the Cumaen Sibyl guides Christine in her journey through the firmament in Le Livre du Chemin de long estude, but it seems unlikely that a writer who feels strongly that ladies "se doivent garder de trop avoir d'acointances a divers hommes" in one work would seriously encourage clandestine love affairs in another (Trois vertus 130).

The interpretation of Sebille as the voice of rationality condemning love affairs, however, is more problematic still, for it must deal with the fact that within Le Duc, as within fourteenth and fifteenth-century medical treatises, lovesickness is construed as an authentic pathology complete with its own series of physical symptoms. (11) An excessive desire for a particular member of the opposite sex brought on by a malfunctioning of the lover's vision and estimative powers, lovesickness was frequently considered a medical matter requiring the services of a physician. Christine's story of the lovesick Duke takes as its point of departure this traditional understanding of obsessive love as a pathological disorder of the nobility, an illness of which the lover cannot cure himself at will. The text, including Sebille's letter, inscribes this conception of love, never indicating that it merits a critical re-examination.

Desire as Pathology

If Christine had meant Le Duc to be read as a subversive criticism of "courtly" love ideology, at some point she would have exposed as foolish the assumptions regarding the love affair of the Lady and the Duke, a character whose voice she assumes in the early lines of the work, and through whom she recounts this tale of love in the traditional literary language modern readers associate with "courtly" love. In taking on the persona of the Duke, critics have remarked, Christine "conflates two voices to create an unusual kind of narrator: that of female author/first-person narrator and male lover." (12) In explicitly adopting the Duke's persona in the opening lines of the work, Christine places herself in a safe position for critiquing the attitude towards love that he embodies, according to this perspective. Richards has described Christine's strategy thus:
   [It] solves a difficult rhetorical problem by freeing her from two
   constricting roles: that of the purveyor of courtly ideology and that
   of the critical judge of that ideology and, by extension, of her
   patron. Simultaneously as the device lays claim to truth, it is
   consistent with the rhetorical figure of fictio personarum or more
   properly, of prosopopoeia, the act by which poets and historians
   alike portray personages and attribute fictional discourse to them.
   (13)


But if she removes her persona from these constricting roles and stakes out a safe position from which to proclaim the truth, the question still arises: what is the truth she means to impart? In other words, what is her attitude towards the lovers' behavior?

Speaking in the persona of the Duke, Christine begins her narrative by relating how he falls in love in words familiar to readers of love lyrics, as one struck unawares by a power greater than himself.
   La fleche de Doulx Regard,
   Qui tant est plaisant et riche,
   Au travers du cuer me fiche.
   Lors fus je moult esperdu! (75, lines 264-67)


The Duke soon begins to suffer under physical love symptoms he cannot disguise from view: "Mais si mene/Estoie, et en si grant courage/Demonstroit, maugre qu'en eusse ..." (108, lines 1340-43). He describes himself as a physical wreck. "Souvent si fort je plouroie / Qu'avis m'iert que je mouroie / En grief dueil" (108, lines 1347-49). It frequently happened that he began to "palir, fremier, et taindre / Et souvent couleur muer" (180, lines 1352-53). Christine thus adopts the construction of love common to contemporary love lyrics. Is this construction of love the object of her critique; in other words, is Le Duc a critique of "courtly" love?

Certainly such a construction of love lends itself to critique, for in conceiving of love as a type of illness, beyond the lover's control, it contains its own built-in excuse for abusive behavior towards women. Furthermore, it is a truism of literary criticism that this construction of love and its conventions were "definitely threadbare by the fifteenth century." (14) However, as I have suggested, what modern readers perceive to be conventions of love were actually references to what was believed to be a serious medical condition. The notion of lovesickness as a pathological desire afflicting the elite and requiring sexual consummation was alive and well in the fifteenth century, but not only in lyric poetry. It was a construction familiar to medical treatises of Christine's day. For physicians, lovesickness was an illness requiring a cure, preferably sexual relations, although other cures were prescribed when this was not possible. As the fourteenth-century physician known as Bona Fortuna describes the disease in a treatise on Constantine's Viaticum, founding document for medieval medical treatments of lovesickness: "Note that amor hereos is an excitation of the thoughts about an individual or singular form and figure of human likeness, very similar to melancholic worry, aided by unfulfilled desire and concupiscence; for if they were fulfilled, hereos would be relieved...." (15) Adding his own opinion to the traditional material he is commenting upon, Bona Fortuna suggests the cause of the illness in words echoed in the Duke's own description of his amorous discomfort.
   But I say that there is, however, one principal cause, namely an
   extrinsic apprehension that is thought fitting and congenial, such
   as the form of any woman that is so strongly apprehended and so
   firmly embraced by the thought that it pleases the patient above
   everything ... this is what moves the fantasy and the intellect.
   These moreover move and obscure the reason such that it does not
   distinguish, but is rather led upon that thought as though it
   already had a settled judgment on one side [i.e., that the object is
   desirable]. (16)


The love symptoms, too, described in the same treatise resemble those suffered by the Duke. Bona Fortuna specifies that the lovesick "seek solitude, and when they are alone, then they weep or sing" and that they "frequently breathe with sighs." (17) As Christine has the Duke describe himself, "Ains de pensee parfonde / Larmoyoye et souspiroie" (109, lines 1384-85). And although he is not portrayed singing, the Duke composes ballad after ballad.

But the text provides no evidence that Christine rejected the physical reality of lovesickness. Nowhere does the text suggest that lovesickness is merely a construction, designed to justify seducing women. Nowhere in her descriptions of the Duke's amorous comportment does Christine hint that he is deluded, suffering from an imaginary illness, or raise the possibility that he could cure himself simply by rejecting the notion of love as physically overwhelming, by employing his reason. A critique of the tradition of love as sickness would necessarily "expose" the physical reality of love to be a fiction created by men to garner sympathy and aid in seduction. Christine, however, lends credence to the existence of lovesickness by adopting without questioning the terms in which it was discussed.

The possibility exists, of course, that Sebille's letter is intended to debunk the Duke and the Lady's characterization of their love as irresistible. But in her advice to her former charge to flee love's power, the governess adopts a construction of love similar to the one the Duke adopts. A review of Sebille's words will make clear that rather than refuting the vision of love shared by the Duke and the Lady, the letter re-inscribes it from a negative perspective.

One of the dangers of a love affair, as Sebille describes it, is that no matter how innocent the Lady's initial intentions, proximity will lead her from one step to another until the relationship turns sexual. Set in motion, love will gather force and inevitably bring about the Lady's surrender. She might believe there is no harm in loving innocently, that, in Sebille's words, "Ce n'est point de mal quant il n'y a pechie" (175). But if she plays with temptation, she will succumb. Alas, writes Sebille: "ne soit nul ne nulle si asseuree de soy qu'elle se rende certaine, quelque bon propos que elle ait, de garder tousjours mesure ensifaicte amour ..." (175-76). This is the common ground between the Duke and his tradition of love and Sebille and her fear of the same: desire as they both understand it is an impulse that gathers momentum until it can no longer be halted.

Does the entirety of the text of Le Duc bear this out? Does the Lady succumb to the Duke's charms, proving that Sebille is right on this count, or does she prove Sebille wrong and keep the relationship Platonic throughout their years as a couple? Christine describes the Lady's efforts to direct the relationship from the very beginning, to circumscribe her own desire and to keep the Duke's under control. When the Lady writes to the Duke that she agrees to be his amie, she stipulates that he must take care to keep her honor or good reputation intact and that he will never so much as ask her to do anything against her will.
   [S]aches de vray que ou cas que m'en requerries ou que j'apperceusse
   que entente eussiez a chose qui a deshonneur tourner peust, ne a mal
   reprouche, jamais n'y avendries, et du tout vous vouldroie je
   estranger--de ce pouez ester certain--car pour chose nee ne vouldroie
   amendrir mon honneur, aincois mourroie. Mais se ainsi estoit qu'amour
   de dame donnee honnourablement et sanz villain penser vous peust
   souffire, saches que je suis celle qu'Amours a ad ce menee, qui vous
   vueil amer tres or et res ja. Et quant je saray par certain
   congonoisce que vostre voulente ait souffisance de ce que la moye lui
   vouldra octroyer, encor vous di tant de mon penser que pour ami seul,
   tres ame, vous vouldray retenir par si que je voie continuer vostre
   amouerux propos et bon vouloir. (142)


The Duke--perhaps because he assumes that she will eventually reward him--responds enthusiastically: "mon vouloir n'est autre chose fors seulement et entierement le vostre" (145). The Lady, still carefully controlling the situation, then concocts a plot as that they can meet, instructing the Duke to disguise himself as a varlet. She is already older than he, as Christine lets the reader know, and requesting him to dress as a varlet emphasizes further the position of superiority the Lady insists on foregrounding. When they are alone at last, the varlet/Duke is so overcome with emotion that he cannot speak, but leaves everything to her--including the decision of whether their relationship will be consummated that evening. All he can manage to blurt out is that he is hers, "corps et d'ame," "plus ne vous saroie dire" (155, lines 2701 and 2703). Once again, the Lady asserts her control over the situation and her own desire. They are servants of Amours, she admits, but warns him against doing anything that would damage her honor, anything that would cause her to be reproached. The text is unclear about exactly what transpires that night, with the Duke admitting only that "cent fois me baise" (160, line 2861).

And yet, as he prepares to leave, he remarks, "tout mon vouloir avoye" (160, line 2873), an expression that suggests that the affair has been consummated.

Sebille cannot be said to refute the construction of love and desire expressed by the proponents, "from a position--moral, discursive, and characterological--that is radically outside the economy of erotic desire, on the one hand, and of courtly discourse on the other," as Kevin Brown-lee has argued. (18) Instead, she simply re-states the premises of her courtly opponents in negative terms. (19) Although they appear at first to be opposing positions, the lovers and Sebille represent two versions, one positive and one negative, of the same phenomenon: overwhelming desire. Liliane Dulac has written that Sebille's letter represents a rupture in the text, that the letter "annonce la dislocution du recit." (20) I would suggest, however, that far from a "dislocution" the letter should be seen as a reinforcement of work's fundamental premises on desire.

In fact, the conception of desire as uncontrollable is essential to Sebille's letter, because her main point relies upon this conception. The central argument of Sebille's letter is that appearance is fundamentally important in women's lives. The text is ambiguous about whether the two become lovers in the commonly understood sense of the term or whether their physical relationship remains at the level of "bundling." I would suggest, however, that this ambiguity is intentional, for the point Christine wishes to illustrate is not only that proximity leads to sexual relations, although Sebille certainly expresses that opinion. Even more important is that the appearance of adultery is just as damaging as the fact. In fact, the reason for the ambiguity surrounding the consummation of the love affair (Christine never actually specifies whether the relationship is consummated, but only hints that it is) is that it does not matter whether they "do" or they "don't." For even though Sebille believes that desire leads inextricably to consummation. the full meaning of her letter lies in her conviction that the truth of what happens between two lovers is irrelevant as far as the status of the Lady is concerned: what counts is the perception of impropriety. Maybe the Duke and the Lady consummate their relationship; maybe they do not. But the perception is as good as the fact.

In a world where women are relentlessly scrutinized, desire is disastrous, but not only because it leads to illicit sexual activity. The subjective experience of desire is in itself dangerous. Like the Duke, Sebille conceptualizes love as a pathology. The Duke focuses on his subjective experience of his love symptoms, and these, while painful, are equally pleasurable. Sebille, however, concentrates on a different aspect of love as sickness: the visible physical changes it wreaks upon its victims and the dangerous results of this visibility. For upon noting the symptoms of love, gossips spread the news. At the first sign of love, gossips guarantee disclosure, imperiling the Lady's reputation.

Sebille begins her letter by observing that news of the Lady's unbecoming behavior has reached her, that she has heard that the Lady has become happier and more loquacious than before: "car vous estes devenue trop plus esgayee, plus emparlee, et plus jolies que ne soulies ester ..." (173). The danger of such comportment, Sebille insists, is that when courtiers notice any change in appearance for the happier in their Lady, they assume that she is in love and begin to whisper about it. And rumors, Sebille insists, even the faintest whispers, spread. Thus a Platonic love will ruin a young woman's reputation as surely as an illicit one. It does not matter if her love is innocent. Given the slightest pretext, gossips assume the worst and spread rumors: "Car poson qu'il n'y ait meffait de corps; si ne le croyent mie ceulx qui seulement orront dire: tele dame est amoureuse. Et pour un petit de nice semblant, par aventure fait par jeunece et sans malice, les mauvaises lengues jugeront et y adjousteront de choses qui oncques ne furent pensees ne faictes!" (174). Regardless of the truth, any lady who gives the appearance, not even of being fond of a young man, but of being happy, will not only be judged to be in love, but will be assumed to involved in an illicit affair. The appearance is as good as the fact, as far as the court is concerned.

The Lady looks happy, tongues begin to wag. Tongues wag, the Lady's reputation is lost. Desire is always too far advanced to recall. The moment she visibly brightens from thinking pleasant thoughts about a certain young man, she makes public her feelings.

But the danger is even greater than this. According to the terms of the economy of desire Le Duc inscribes, even not thinking about young men is not sufficient protection. No, the Lady must avoid even glancing in the direction of young men. For if her eyes should happen to fall upon a young man, he might fall in love with her, and she might then be attracted by his desire. Unfortunately for her, this is the Lady's mistake in Le Duc--her fall from honor begins at the moment of her first, possibly accidental, glance at the Duke. Whatever her intentions may have been, as far as the Duke is concerned, her glance, her "beaulx yeulx amoureux," create the initial sparks that eventually burst into a full-blown case of love. The Duke describes the moment he fell in love, placing the blame squarely on a glance from the Lady:
  Car devers sa face,
  En alant, mes yeulx tournay,
  Les doulx espart savoureux
  De ses beaulx yeulx amoureux
  Lanca sur moy par tel guise
  Qu'onques puis que I'amour mis
  Y fut, il n'en departi. (77, lines 332-39)


The text thus attributes the onset of love to a glance from the Lady. The situation is her fault from the beginning.

Sebille only confirms this aspect of the love economy common to courtly lyric and romance. No flirtation is harmless: for Sebille, simply looking at a young man is a dangerous activity. Thus her logic leads her to advise, as it must, that ladies flee potential lovers before they even see them, before they establish any contact: "le plus seur est du tout l'eschever et fuir" (175). No one, no matter how honorable, can resist Amours. Once one falls in love, the rest must follow; even in the unlikely event a lady finds the strength to resist the physical allure of love, her reputation will be ruined by gossips, just as if she had not resisted. A love affair is a no-win situation, lost from the moment the young lady looks, even accidentally, at a potential lover.

If one lifts the letter out of context, or, as I have suggested, if one reads the letter in the context of Trois vertus, one has no reason to doubt Sebille's belief in reason and thus her good faith in offering the advice. In the sober environment of a courtesy book, the letter's construction of desire can be seen as slightly exaggerated, but the letter nonetheless is nothing more drastic than a bit of serious advice to avoid adultery. Outside the context of Le Duc, thus, Sebille's advice to avoid love is part of a rational decision on the part of the young lady to guard her reputation.

As part of Le Duc, however, Sebille's letter must be juxtaposed with the other events recounted throughout the entire narrative. Thus the fact cannot be ignored that at the moment Sebille offers advice to her former charge to shun love, it is already too late to help her, as Sebille well knows. For Sebille's letter is elicited by an urgent written request from the Lady that the governess rejoin her household, for a reason she only hints at, but the importance of which she emphasizes:
   Si vouldroie que feussies pres de moy; je vous diroie de bien
   gracieuses choses, lesquelles je ne vous escrips mie, et pour cause.
   Si aroie bien afaire de vostre ayde et bon conseil, par quoy je vous
   prie sur toute I'amour que avez a moy que, tantost ces letres veues,
   le plus hastivement que vous pourres vous ordenies de voz besongnes
   en tel maniere que soies preste dedens. viij. jours apres pour venir
   vers moy ... (170)


The Lady does not specify the reason for her distress. But, as Sebille lets the Lady know, she, Sebille, understands exactly for what purpose she is being summoned. For the rumors have already been set flying by the Lady's indiscreet behavior. "Ma Dame," Sebille begins the letter, "j'ay entendu aucunes nouvelles de vostre gouvenement teles que j'en suis dolente de tout mon cuer pour la paour que j'ay du decheement de vostre bon los ..." (172). Moreover, although Sebille carefully points out that she is quite sure that the Lady would never consider allowing her love affair to exceed the limits of innocence, the very premise of her attitude towards love is that once it has begun, the end is a foregone conclusion. As part of Le Duc, thus, Sebille's letter can hardly be seen as a serious warning to avoid love. Everything she warns the Lady against has either already happened, or is inevitably set to happen, as Sebille well knows. The letter thus cannot be read as a simple warning, a plea to the lady to change her indiscreet behavior.

As Thelma Fenster has noted, given that the letter in Trois vertus is offered as an example of the type of letter a chaperon might send her lady after leaving the lady's household in despair of reforming her, it is not far-fetched to imagine that a similar set of circumstances apply to Sebille and the Lady of Le Duc. The reader is given no information as to the reason for Sebille's departure from the Lady's household in Le Duc, but it may be that the governess has already been disgusted by earlier episodes of indiscretion. Moreover, in sending her excuses for not coming to the Lady's aid, the Sebille of Le Duc blames her sick daughter. This is one of the excuses Christine specifically mentions as a reason a disillusioned chaperon might give for leaving an incorrigible charge. (21)

Sebille's advice, then, must be read as futile. What is clear, however, is that Sebille's words are prophetic, in the sense that they accurately predict the Lady's downfall. Like Christine's sad but wise lyric narrator, Sebille knows both that love is inevitable and that it inevitably ends in sorrow. For the Lady, then, Sebille's prophecies foretell future events, but they do not really offer useable advice for preventing them. The oracle in the Oedipus story offers a comparison. Certainly the oracle foretells Oedipus's future, but it does not thereby offer a way of avoiding what will happen. On the contrary. Although Oedipus, horrified by his future prospects, entered into a life of wandering to avoid his fate, he could not escape it. Sebille's prophecy is accurate, but it offers no possibility of escape, because the inevitable mechanism of desire has already been set in motion. In fact, Sebille's letter lays bare the workings of desire and exposes the futility of trying to control it, because by the time one registers desire, it is already too late. Her letter, thus, describes a particular state of mind. It offers no hope for changing it, however.

Sebille is the very embodiment of reason that cannot overcome desire, of a reason whose defeat is a foregone conclusion. Her letter's construal of desire, juxtaposed as it is with the writings of the Duke and the Lady, can be read as an illustration of desire's mechanism, and in writing her letter Sebille re-enacts the futile attempts of Reason to persuade the Lover not to love in the Roman de la Rose. (22) Conscious of her reputation, the Lady sees her own situation mirrored in Sebille's words and repents of her love. After reading the Dame de la Tour's letter, she renounces the Duke, writing to him that she has regained her reason: "quant en ceste amour je me mis, je ne me donnoie garde des perilz ou je me fichoie, mais ceste sage dame m'a ouvert les yeulx de raison et d'aviser en mon fait, ou se non, je seroie perdue et honnie" (183). But she is a victim of her desire for the Duke, and her longing for him soon overwhelms her reason and her fright at Sebille's admonition. With remarkable speed, she summons him back. Amours will not allow their separation, she writes: "je voye bien que la departie de vous et de moy Amours ne pourroit souffrir" (189).

The story continues, recounting the inevitable troubles of secret lovers, but also their joy in each other. They endure a long separation to save their honor. And yet the work ends with a horrified lament by the heroine about her faithless lover and lost honor, "Car ad'es vif en cremour / De perdre lui et m'onnour" (214, lines 77-78). What has happened? Nothing in the work indicates that the Duke has been unfaithful: in fact, the Duke seems to have been nothing but faithful, even through a separation of some ten years. The Lady's terror does not seem at all adequately prepared by what we know of the Duke, particularly since within the framework of the story, he requested that the story be told in the first place. As she begins the Duke's story, after the events that take place within have transpired, Christine points out that the Duke is still a servant of love: "Il a par lonc temps este/Pour Amours, ouquel servage/Est ancor son cuer en gage" (67, lines 18-20).

Why then does the Lady believe that he has been unfaithful? The ambiguity here, like the ambiguity surrounding the question of whether or not their relationship is ever consummated, only bolsters the inevitability of Sebille's pessimistic prediction, that love must end unhappily for young women. The mysterious ending of the story confirms the prediction, even as it defies expectations. The love affair ends in despair and suffering, but it is not because the Lady is betrayed by the Duke. Nor does her sad end come about because she sleeps with the Duke (if she does). It comes about because she might have slept with the Duke. As far as the gossips who occasioned her loss of honor are concerned, this is sufficient.

"Pour un petit de nice semblant"

And herein lies Sebille's didactic value. Her letter is not a critique of "courtly" love. Like the Duke, she understands lovesickness as a phenomenon over which the lover has no control, once he or she enters into its economy. A critique of "courtly" love would stress the possibility of rationality over emotion. Rather than insisting to the Lady that affection leads inevitably to consummation. Sebille could have attempted in her letter to help her former charge strengthen her defensive position, calling upon her to make use of her reason, her free will. This is not what Sebille does. She concedes the impossibility of extricating oneself from love, leaving the construction of love common to the courtly lyric and romance in place.

Howard Bloch's study of medieval misogyny sheds light on Sebille's didactic strategy. In his chapter on the "poetics of virginity," Bloch discusses the "founding thinking of the problem of desire in the first four centuries of the Christian era." (23) According to this thinking, a woman incurs guilt simply by virtue of wandering into the line of vision of a man who desires her. The examples he cites form an interesting parallel to Sebille's construal of the problem of desire:
   Thus the Cyprian, again: "But if you ... enkindle the fire of hope,
   so that, without perhaps losing your own soul, you nevertheless ruin
   others ... who behold you. you cannot be excused on the ground that
   your mind is chaste and pure.... Or Tertullian: "For that other, as
   soon as he has felt concupiscence after your beauty, and has mentally
   already committed (the deed) which his concupiscence pointed to,
   perishes." (24)


Bloch concludes that, "Since desire resides in sight, and since it makes no difference whether one sees or is seen ... and finally since sight does not reside entirely in the faculty of perception but is also a faculty of intellect, a virgin is a woman who is not thought to be one in the thought of another." (25) The construction of desire to which Sebille ascribes is similar. For Sebille, too, a virgin is not a woman who has never slept with a man. As she insists, it is not enough that the young lady be chaste in fact. Many innocent women have been ruined by gossip. A virgin according to Sebille's way of thinking is someone whom the court cannot imagine embarking upon a love affair.

But if the lady of the story is lost well before Sebille's diatribe. the reader of Le Duc still has time to heed the message and shun desire. To remain chaste, a woman must never stray into its realm, either as one who desires or is desired. If the utter rejection of desire seems an unduly austere prospect, the life Sebille advocates represents its own advantages as well, the most important of which would be a sort of psychological liberation from male oppression. While the addressee of Sebille's letter is married, the Trois vertus emphasizes only that she obey and love her husband, not that she desire him. The lady of Le Duc is married, but nothing indicates that she feels desire for her husband. Instead of entering into a relationship with the Duke, by cultivating a body perfectly unperturbed by desire, she could have created an irreproachable public persona, and, furthermore, liberated herself from subjection to her husband.

As Bloch points out, Genesis 3:16 specifies that female subordination is the price for Eve's folly. (26) As for whether women were inferior to men before the Fall, two separate traditions dealt with the hierarchy of the sexes before that cataclysmic event. Both based upon Genesis 1:27, "God created man in His own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them," the traditions differed in their interpretations of whether God's creation of man in His own image was prior to or simultaneous with his creation of them as "male and female." In other words, did the two sexes exist at the level of the spirit or only at that of the body? The tradition deriving from Augustine held that God created man and woman in two steps: first He created man in His own image, as a spiritual entity. Then God created the physical, gendered bodies, man and woman. (27) Thus only men were properly created in the spiritual image of God while women were irremediably associated with their gender, their physical being.

However, a second tradition, rooted in Gregory of Nyssa, paralleled the Augustinian view of women as both spiritually and physically inferior to men. Interpreting Genesis 1:27 to mean that both man and woman are created in God's image, with their dual genders resulting from the Fall, Gregory of Nyssa believed in the spiritual equality of men and women. Rosemary Radford Ruether describes
   a parallel tradition among the Church fathers ... according to which
   the doctrine of Eve's role in sin is interpreted as a possibility of
   her liberation from sexual oppression and male domination under the
   gospel. This view assumed the equivalence of male and female in
   creation and interprets woman's subordination as the effects of
   sin.... Virginity, then, is interpreted as the resurrected life of
   the gospel whereby woman is freed from this twofold curse on Eve of
   the sorrows of childbearing and male domination. (28)


This tradition finds its way into the Middle Ages, expressed, for example, in the eleventh century by Peter Damian. Patricia Ranft relates how Peter Damian wrote to congratulate the Duchess Beatrice of Tuscany and her husband, Godfrey, when they announced their decision to live together as brother and sister. First mistakenly believing that the decision was entirely Godfrey's, Peter Damian wrote enthusiastically to Beatrice when he learned that she, too, was in favor of the idea. Ranft writes:
   When he found out that she was in eager agreement with the
   arrangement, Damian "shouted with joy. Now you are free," he wrote
   to her, "of that ancient curse in which it was said to the first
   woman, 'You will be in the power of your husband and he shall be
   your master.'" He continued, reminding her of Sarah's decision to
   live chastely with Abraham. After Sarah made her decision. "God
   said to Abraham, 'Pay attention to everything that Sarah will say
   to you.' Notice that as a result of her chastity, she to whom
   Abraham had previously given orders he was now commanded to obey,
   so that now he was to listen to her in everything, whereas formerly
   he had controlled her as her master." (29)


A great proponent of spiritual equality of Christine's day was, of course, Jean Gerson. According to this well-known contemporary and admirer of Christine, chaste women were even holier than their male counterparts. To a group of nuns he stresses their superiority over male members of the Church, writing: "You will be singled out and crowned with a divine crown in paradise.... You are the most beautiful part of holy church." (30) In his opinion of carnal desire and the internal disorder it implied, Gerson was every bit as vehement as Sebille. Those who choose to give in to their desire choose "an animal existence," he writes. Carnal desires are like iron chains, he continues, "and the dark, horrid, squalid and dank dungeon is the filthy lust of our heart." (31)

The ladies of Le Duc and Trois vertus, like all women, are candidates for spiritual equality with men, and even spiritual superiority. But to achieve this status, they need to remain free of the iron chains of carnality. Given desire's insidious nature, they must remain aloof from anything that might inspire it in them; they must refuse intimacy with members of the opposite sex altogether. Once again, Jean Gerson illustrates the perils of desire from an early fifteenth-century theological perspective. In his treatise against the Roman de la Rose, he offers an analysis of the painful human condition of desiring, emphasizing the fragility of the will in the face of temptations of the flesh.

Seeing, or even hearing about, seductive things represents a terrible danger to anyone attempting to remain in control of him or herself. Writes Gerson, "[A]inssy est que veoir ou oir aucunes choses charnelles nuement et selonc leur premier estat esmouveroit les pecheurs regardans a tres villains desires...." (32) Describing Gerson's acute awareness of the danger of sexual language, Dyan Elliott notes that even in the context of the confessional, discussion of sexual matters carried the threat of contamination: "Yet the therapeutic effort to discover and diagnose sins was not without danger to the practitioner. As Gerson was aware, the penitent-patient's sexual confession could infect the priest-doctor sufficiently to provoke pollution...." Given this danger, the confessor needed to take special pains to avoid arousal. Elliott continues, "The confessor, averting his gaze from the speaker, should assume a posture least conducive to stimulation--be this standing, kneeling, or even full prostration. He should limit himself to terse and controlled speech...." (33)

Any contact between men and women, beyond the purely impersonal, then, was potentially dangerous. Sebille's vociferous advocacy of remaining utterly above desire implies an acute consciousness of how easily men and women fall prey to their desires. The Duke and Sebille do not exaggerate when they claim that desire moves rapidly from a glance to full-blown love. Believing in the possibility of equality through the rejection of desire, thus, Sebille advises nothing but the most superficial relationships with men.

Although Sebille's purpose seems to be direct in Trois vertus, within the context of Le Duc, her message is more complex. It does not simply represent an indictment of the love affairs practiced at the courts. Rather, it is an exploration of the psychology of desire, and far from suggesting, as many critics have written, that Christine's treatment of the Duke and her insertion of Sebille's letter amount to an exposure of the fraudulent nature of "courtly" love, they amount to just the opposite: they verify the central tenets of love as it was construed by the tradition according to which Christine composed Le Duc. Sebille's letter does not show the Duke's desire to be a fiction. It shows his desire to be a very real and very dangerous force that afflicts both men and women alike, quite beyond their will to control it, and on this basis, Le Duc can be seen as a warning to eschew desire completely if one wants to avoid its dire consequences. Sebille's letter, then, only lends credence to the phenomenon many critics have assumed it to attack, that is, the "courtly" construction of love as overwhelming desire set in motion by forces beyond the control of the lover. The letter's presence among the work's love poetry and prose actually reveals how desire functions even more precisely than the lovers' lyrics and letters, at the same time as it ostensibly warns against it. Lovers who believe themselves capable of controlling their desire inevitably fall victim to a force they cannot withstand. (34) The letter thus conveys an authentic didactic message in Le Duc, but a more austere and frightening message than the one it conveys in Trois vertus. Undoubtedly the letter's message is too difficult for most readers to take seriously. In that case, the work's message as a whole remains intact, illustrating as it does the nature of human love: unbelievably beautiful, but ultimately destructive, like all earthly pleasure. Juxtaposed as it is with the love writings of Le Duc, the letter creates an impression of a sad but wise presence, a presence that, like Christine's lyric narrator, admits the pleasures of love but can do nothing to prevent the pain.

Notes

(1) See, for example, Kevin Brownlee's seminal study of Machaut's poetic narrator. Poetic Identity in Guillaume de Machaut (Madison: University of Wisonsin Press, 1984). On Christine's refusal of the role of loving narrator see Brownlee's "Discourses of the Self: Christine de Pizan and the Rose," Romanic Review 79 (1988): 199-221: and Barbara K. Altmann's "'Trop peu en scay': The Reluctant Narrator in Christine de Pizan's Works on Love." Chaucer's French Contemporaries: The Poetry/Poetics of Self and Tradition, ed. R. Barton Palmer (New York: AMS Press, 1999) 217-49.

(2) La Technique Poetique des Trouveres dans la Chanson Courtoise (Bruges: De Tempel. 1960) 542.

(3) Charity Cannon Willard, "Lover's Dialogues in Christine de Pizan's Lyric Poetry from the Cent Ballades to the Cent Ballades d'Amant et de Dame," Fifteenth-Century Studies 4 (1981): 174-5. For Sandra Hindman, Christine revises the traditional romance in this work, creating a critique of the traditional genre: "If the starkly realistic story appears on the surface to be relatively commonplace, apart from its atypically moralizing conclusion, the discourse that frames it is remarkably innovative. Christine constructs the narrative out of verse lyrics and prose epistles that enable her to recast the standard roles played by female protagonists in the courtly romance. By inscribing herself in the work, she gives voice to the previously mute sufferings of women at the hands of a misogynistic tradition." "Insurgent Voices. Illuminated Versions of Christine de Pizan's 'Le Livre du Duc des vrais amans.'" The City of Scholars: New Approaches to Christine de Pizan, ed. Margarete Zimmermann and Dina De Rentiis (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1994) 222-23.

See also Roberta Krueger's chapter on Christine in Women Readers and the Ideology of Gender (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) 217-52. Like Hindman, Krueger sees the work as a revision of the masculine-biased traditions of love. She writes: "In Le Livre du Duc des Vrais Amans, the author deftly recasts romance conventions so as to reveal the dangers of courtly discourse for women. She deconstructs the seductive strategies of romances like the Roman de la Rose, the Chastelain de Couci, and Machaut's and Froissart's amorous dits by revealing their masculinist bias" (218). Maureen McCann Boulton offers a similar perspective: "Christine's purpose in writing the Duc was different from that of her predecessors. Most of these poets, how ever pessimistic they might have been about their own success, reaffirmed the values of courtly love. Guillaume de Machaut's Voir Dit, in exposing the contradictions inherent in the ideology, is an exception, but where Machaut revealed the problems of the courtly poet. Christine was interested in the effect of this ideology on the woman who is the poet's inspiration. Her conclusions were, as we have seen, discouraging. She portrayed a young man's idealistic love, generously returned by his lady, and showed how it inevitably led her to risk social and moral disaster. Such love, even for the high-minded laws of the Duc, brings happiness to no one. Christine was thus more radical than Machaut in her intentions. She used the conventions of the dit amoureuse for the purposes of undermining its ideology." The Song in the Story: Lyric Insertions in French Narrative Fiction, 1200-1400 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993) 241-42.

(4) Le Livre du duc des vrais amans, ed. Thelma Fenster (Binghamton, NY: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1995) 175. Le Livre du duc des vrais amans predates Le Livre des Trois Vertus, ed. Charity Cannon Willard and Eric Hicks (Paris: Champion, 1989). In Le Livre des Trois Vertus, Sebille's letter is preceded by the note: "Pour ce que l'espistre qui est contenue ou Livre du Duc des Vrais Amans, ou il est mis que Sebile de la Tour l'envoia a la duchece, puet servir au propos que ou chapitre cy apres ensuit, sera de rechief recordee" (109).

(5) The letters are almost identical, containing only minor variations. On the significance of these differences for interpretation of the advice, see Liliane Dulac's article on Le Duc. "Christine de Pizan et le malheur des vrais amans." Melanges de langue et litterature offerts a Pierre Le Gentil (Paris: SEDES. 1973) 231.

(6) Brown-Grant writes that the work's object is "to teach women to live in such a way as to bring credit to themselves and to their sex as a whole. Christine's 'politics of visibility' shows her contemporaries the way not just to virtue in their own lives but also to a shining reputation for posterity." Christine de Pizan and the Moral Defense of Women: Reading Beyond Gender (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) 206.

(7) Sebille's flexibility of meaning will pose no problem for the modern reader familiar with Christine's tendency to focus her material to best persuade her audience. As Rosalind Brown-Grant has shown in Christine de Pizan and the Moral Defense of Women, Christine was very conscious of the importance of adjusting her writing to appeal to different audiences. Moreover, Brown-Grant has illustrated the extent to which Christine consciously relied upon a text's framework to make particular stories signify, particularly in the Epistre Othea. The approach Brown-Grant takes in her readings of the individual stories of the Epistre might be extended to Sebille's letter. The reader must "examine the actual mechanisms by which those stores are made to signify within the text's allegorical framework. In this way, we shall see how they function as part of a programme for moral education designed to repudiate what Christine perceived to be the pernicious doctrine of the Rose" (55). In the same way, I would propose that the reader needs to examine the mechanism by which Sebille's letter is made to signify in Le Livre du Duc des vrais amans.

(8) Reinterpreting Christine de Pizan, ed. Earl Jeffrey Richards, Joan Williamson, Nadia Margolis, and Christine Reno (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992) 20.

(9) "Tous parlent par une mesmes bouche: Lyrical Outbursts, Prosaic Remedies, and Voice in Christine de Pizan's Livre du Duc des vrais amans," Christine de Pizan and Medieval French Lyric, ed. Earl Jeffrey Richards (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998) 105.

(10) For a reading of Le Livre du Duc des vrais amans as repudiating courtly love see Richards. "Tous parlent par une mesmes bouche," and Hindman, cited above. For an opposing perspective see Beatrice Gottlieb, "The Problem of Feminism in the Fifteenth Century." Women of the Medieval World: Essays in Honor of John H. Mundy (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985) 337-63. In a finely nuanced reading Kevin Brownlee describes the work's orientation as dual. "On the one hand, it valorizes both courtly discourse and courtly eroticism. This is the (ultimately dominant) perspective of the work's male patron-protagonist. On the other hand, the Livre is also a critique of courtoisie as code--from an authorial perspective outside the discursive and behavioral economy of courtly erotic desire." "Rewriting Romance: Courtly Discourse and Auto-Citation in Christine de Pizan," Gender and Text in the Later Middle Ages, ed. Jane Chance (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996) 180.

(11) Mary Frances Wack, "From Mental Faculties to Magical Philters: The Entry of Magic into Academic Medical Writing on Lovesickness, 13-17th Centuries," Eros and Anteros; The Medical Traditions of Love in the Renaissance, ed. Donald A. Beecher and Massimo Ciavolella (Ottawa: Dovehouse Editions, 1992) 9. The conception of love underlying Le Livre du Duc des vrais amans was widespread and not particular to courtly love poetry. Medical treatises of the Middle Ages agree upon a definition of love as a psycho-somatic condition necessitating medical treatment. See Mary Frances Wack, Lovesickness in the Middle Ages: The Viaticum and Its Commentaries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990) 149: and La Folie et le Corps, ed. Jean Ceard, (Paris: Presses de l'Ecole Normale Superieure, 1985).

(12) Fenster, introduction to Le Livre du Duc des vrais amans 18. See also Brownlee, "Rewriting Romance" 172-74.

(13) "Tous parlent par une mesmes bouche" 114.

(14) Richards, "Tous parlent par une mesmes bouche" 115. See also Kenneth Varty's introduction to his Christine de Pisan: Ballades. Rondeaux, and Virelais, an Anthology (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1965). "As time went by there was a tendency to exaggerate these attitudes, to turn the lover's distress into a death agony ..." (xiii).

(15) Wack, Lovesickness 255. The text is Bona Fortuna's Treatise on the Viaticum, which was written in the early fourteenth century and became immediately influential as a practical as well as theoretical guide to medicine. The Sorbonne had a copy by the late fourteenth century.

(16) Wack, Lovesickness 257.

(17) Wack, Lovesickness 257-59.

(18) "Rewriting Romance" 178.

(19) Krueger, cited above, reads Sebille's advice as double-edged, because although she "shatters the masculine fiction of desire," she also "reinforces the status quo of gender and class, where women are as much objects of male appropriation as they are in the lover's fiction" (237). I would argue that Sebille does not shatter the masculine fiction of desire, but rather accepts it as a given.

(20) "Christine de Pizan et le malheur des vrais amans" 229.

(21) See Le Livre des Trois vertus 107-8.

(22) A principal point of contention between the opponents in the Querelle de la Rose was the duty of the author to "control" the images he sets loose in his work. Christine's opponents supported the value of the Roman de la Rose, arguing that even if Jean de Meun's explicit words create potentially seductive images, the result of these images was to teach the reader to avoid foolish love. Pierre Col sees the scenes between Reason and the Lover as teaching through negative examples how not to behave. He writes: "ne fault ja qu'on s'efforce de plus blasmer Fol Amoureux que fait le livre de la Rose." He continues, "Et quant maisre Jehan de Meung appelle les secres membres de fame <<saintuaires>> et <<reliques>>, il le fist pour monstrer la grant folie qui est an Fol Amoureux: car ung fol amoureux ne pense a autre chose que a ce bouton; et est son dieu, et l'aoure come son dieu." Eric Hicks, ed., Le Debat sur le Roman de la Rose (Paris: Champion, 1977) 92-93. Christine, less confident of the reader's "reason," ridicules Pierre Col's suggestion that men will avoid passion after reading the scene where Reason names the membres secres. Echoing Jean Gerson's analysis of the power of images to move, she insists. "Rayson fist a l'Amant ainssy come se je parloie a une fame grosse ou a ung malade, et je luy ramentevoye pommes aigres ou poires nouvelles ou autre fruit, que luy fut bien apetisant et contraire, et je luy disoie que se il en mengoit, ce luy nuirroit mout. Vraiement je tiens que mieulx li souvendroit et plus luy aroit penetre en son appetit les choses nommees que la deffence faicte de non en mangier ..." (125).

(23) Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991) 100. Bloch's analysis makes clear that according to certain traditions of misogynistic thought even looking at or speaking of a particular object with desire is virtually the same thing as acting out that desire. He explains the impossibility of even praising a particular virgin, because in the very recounting of her perfection, one makes individual, or embodies, the abstraction that is essential to virginity. There is "no way of speaking about virginity that does not imply its loss, no poetics of praise that is not already complicit in the violence of rape, no magnification of the perfection of women abstracted that is not a taking of possession" (112). Bloch, of course, draws connections between virginity and "courtly" love.

(24) Bloch, Medieval Misogyny 99.

(25) Bloch, Medieval Misogyny 101.

(26) The passage reads: "Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." See also George H. Tavard, Woman in Christian Tradition (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1973). "The curse of woman evokes a reversal of the order of the universe achieved in Eden. Whereas woman in her innocence was the acme of creation, woman in experience, following her initiation to sexuality, will be dominated by her sexual desire for her husband, by her husband himself who will rule over her, and by the pains of pregnancy" (17).

(27) See Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Misogynism and Virginal Feminism in the Fathers of the Church," Religion and Sexism in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. Rosemary Radford Ruether (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974) 150-83. "For Augustine, man as the image of God was summed up in Adam, the unitary ancestor of humanity" (156). In the same volume see Eleanor Commo McLaughlin's "Equality of Souls; Inequality of Sexes: Woman in Medieval Theology" (213-66) for a description of how the Augustinian tradition played itself out in the Middle Ages. According to the Augustinian tradition, women were spiritually as well as physically inferior to men. Thus "for the female, virginity is not an affirmation of her being as a woman, but an assumption of the nature of the male" (234). The male, "already defined in terms of a superior rationality, with its possibility of self-transcendence, was upon entering the religious life, in contrast to the woman, denying something quite literally external to his being" (235). To see how the tradition of spiritual equality played itself out in the Middle Ages see Patricia Ranft, Woman and Spiritual Equality in Christian Tradition (New York: St. Martin's, 1998), especially her chapter "Women in Late Medieval Sermons. Literature and the Arts" 195-211. See also Peter Brown. The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: 1988) 294-95.

(28) Ruether, "Misogynism and Virginal Feminism in the Fathers of the Church" 158-59.

(29) Ranft, Woman and Spiritual Equality 137.

(30) Cited in Ranft, Woman and Spiritual Equality 204.

(31) Jean Gerson: Selections from A Deo exivit, Contra curiositatem studentium and De mystica theological Speculativa, intro, ed., trans, and annotated Steven E. Ozment (Leiden: Brill, 1969) 23.

(32) Hicks, Le Debat sur le Roman de la Rose 84.

(33) Fallen Bodies: Pollution, Sexuality, and Demonology in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999) 24.

(34) Cf. ballade 10 and the "Lay de Dame" of the Cent Ballades d'amant et de dame. Jacqueline Cerquiglini, Cent Ballades d'amant et de dame (Paris: Union Generale d'Editions, 1982).

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