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Compte rendu de « Ordering Emotions in Europe, 1100-1800 » (TMR)

Source : The Medieval Review

Broomhall, Susan, ed., Ordering Emotions in Europe, 1100-1800,  Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions. Leiden: Brill, 2015. Pp. xvi, 319. $163.00. ISBN: 978-9-00430-509-0.

Reviewed by Barbara H. Rosenwein
Loyola University Chicago

Although not called a <i>Festschrift</i>, this collection of articles by mainly British and Australian scholars is a tribute to Philippa Maddern, Founding Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, whose untimely death in 2014 left many colleagues both near and far (including this reviewer) in mourning. Susan Broomhall, Maddern’s colleague and a scholarly dynamo who has published (by my count) six collections of essays since 2008, here adds another book to the burgeoning field of the History of Emotions.

« Ordering emotions » refers, according to Broomhall, to how emotions and cognition work together. Broomhall outlines three ways to understand emotions’ role in « ordering » thought. In the first, the researcher seeks to understand how past theories put together « emotion » and « thought. » In the second, the researcher asks how such theories were « enacted…as social and emotional practices. » The third way asks how emotional practices shaped thought, including theories of emotion and cognition.

The first approach is more or less a part of the history of ideas: it looks at ideas about emotions, about cognition, and about the ways they were said to interact. The second adheres to what might be called the « performative » view of emotions, but with a twist. For while many scholars talk about the expression of emotions in everyday life as a sort of performance or practice, Broomhall’s formulation suggests that what is enacted are the theories themselves. This suggests another way to think of « emotionology, » the approach to emotions first advocated by Peter and Carol Stearns, who looked at how advice books for the middle classes influenced behavior and childhood upbringing. The third approach has rarely been so explicitly formulated, but it is implicit, for example, in Damian Boquet and Piroska Nagy’s recent book, <i>Sensible moyen âge</i> (2015), where they argue that the experience of Christ’s Passion led to changes in ideas about the passions.

Thus this book poses questions at the very cutting edge of the History of Emotions. Moreover, the introduction (by Broomhall) provides a good overview of the many issues that researchers in the field confront today. Yet the thirteen essays that follow, ranging over nearly a millennium and taking up disparate topics, cluster around the first two approaches–the changing ways in which Europeans between 1100 and 1800 conceived of the « ordering » of the emotions, and the ways in which emotional « practice » carried out elements of the reigning theory (or theories) of emotions. The third way is rarely attempted. And, indeed, it is the first approach, the one that looks at theory, that is the most fully successful (if also the least ambitious). The point is easily made if we regroup the chapters by theme.

Five chapters focus on theories alone without making claims about practice. In chapter one, Juanita Feros Ruys, « Nine Angry Angels, » explains how scholastic thinkers tried to reconcile the theoretical order of the angels with their ideas about angelic feelings. If the angels were burning with various forms of love (as these thinkers argued), why did some angels rebel against God? The answers witness to a lively concern among the Schoolmen about the disruptive effects of the emotions. In chapter two, Clare Monagle, « Christ’s Masculinity, » takes up the ways in which Peter Lombard thought about the gendering of Christ and his « embodied emotional identity » (32). In effect, Monagle argues, Peter Lombard « masculinized » theology, allowing it to be accessed only by those with training in the <i>ordo rationis</i> (the order of reason), namely « the elite clerical men who attended the schools » (40). In chapter three, Carol Williams shows how theories of the modes of medieval music were understood to affect both morals and behavior. Although plainchant had strict rules, vernacular music was often exempt from these theoretical strictures. This allowed it to express emotions with greater intensity, though some thinkers found ways to accept passionate emotion in plainchant as well. Chapter eight, « Living Anxiously, » by Danijela Kambaskovic concentrates on theories of the senses rather than of the emotions. The « anxiety » in the title refers to an overall « anxious interest in orderly government of the senses » (161). While early modern writers often included « internal senses » such as imagination in their discussions, Kambaskovic focuses on the five that are recognized today. In chapter twelve, « Androgyny and the Fear of Demonic Intervention, » François Soyer explores ideas about ambiguous sexuality, gender, and demonic possession in the early modern Iberian Peninsula. Theologians generally agreed that sexual organs could not actually be transformed by demons, though demons might spread the illusion of such a change. But when it came to trying a woman for the charge of having a penis, inquisitors were willing to convict her of making a pact with the devil in order to have a male member. Soyer is interested in whether popular and elite attitudes differed regarding the role of the demons. Although it seems that popular opinion attributed greater powers to the demons, Soyer concludes that « there was certainly no clear-cut divergence of attitudes » (260).

Touching on the issue of theory turned into practice are six chapters. Very interesting as they are, they also suggest how difficult it is to see precisely <i>how</i> ideas become action. In chapter four, Spencer Young, « Avarice, Emotions, and the Family, » argues that when medieval theorists said that avarice corrupted moral norms, their ideas eventually found their way to popular preachers and thus were imbibed by « late medieval Christians » (71). Most of the essay, however, is about the various ideas moralists held regarding avarice and emotional effects. For example, they railed against the love of children because it prevented fathers from giving their wealth away to charities. In chapter six, « Nicholas of Modruš’s <i>De consolatione</i> (1465-1466), » Han Baltussen takes up a treatise aimed at « grief management » (105). Nicholas’s work, Baltussen argues, was « a stepping stone » (108) in the history of attitudes toward grief. Without doubt, it was meant to guide people. But its actual effects on practice remain unexplored. In chapter nine, Raphaële Garrod looks at « Early Modern Jesuit Discourses about Affects, » taking up in particular the writings of Francisco Suárez and Nicolas Caussin on motherhood. Garrod shows how Caussin tried to turn high-flown theory into « practice » in a letter that he wrote to a grieving mother: she should first feel the full extent of her pain, then recognize that her sorrow came from her Christian imperfection, and finally find solace in the promise of the afterlife. Did the mother put the advice to use? No doubt she tried to do so. In chapter ten, « Anatomy of a Passion, » Louis Charland and R.S. White understand the mad jealousy of Leontes in Shakespeare’s <i>The Winter’s Tale</i> as performing (literally) the theory of the passions of Thomas Wright (d. 1623). While their ultimate purpose is to contribute to our understanding of modern clinical issues, the bulk of their essay explores the two theoretical treatises and their « mirroring » in Shakespeare’s play. Yasmin Haskell’s study, « Arts and Games of Love » in chapter eleven, seeks to discover how classical and Christian ideas about friendship were employed by the Jesuits in « a flurry of poetic activity » (230). The poems were meant to cultivate appropriate homosocial bonds within the order and to sensitize its members to imagine themselves in the place of others in order to « harvest souls at all levels of European society and in the overseas missions » (242). Chapter thirteen, « Medical Effects and Affects, » by Robert L. Weston explores the emotions–mainly negative ones–that arose in the course of correspondence between ailing patients and their doctors in early modern France. Here we see some of the ways in which popular and learned ideas about the passions and disease informed the ways that people talked about themselves and others.

Only two chapters try to show how practice influenced theory. In chapter five, Louise D’Arcens, « Affective Memory across Time, » asserts that Christine de Pizan’s <i>The Book of the City of Ladies</i> used medieval conventions of memory to create a work that would elicit, at one and the same time, male admiration of women rather than derision and female « pride, safety, and sociability instead of shame, fear, and isolation » (88). Here, however, Christine was not quite a theorist nor quite a practitioner but rather a sort of emotional orchestrator, hoping to change the emotional practices she found around her. In chapter seven, « Hearts on Fire, » Susan Broomhall looks at « a richly illustrated manuscript » (121) prepared in 1578 for the French royal court by an apothecary, Nicolas Houel, who hoped to appeal to the « fellow feeling, compassion, and love » of the king and the Catholic citizens of Paris. This manuscript was one of several aimed at getting donations for Houel’s pet project: a charitable institution to treat the poor, infirm, and elderly while offering education to boys and girls. The manuscript’s text and illustrations, Broomhall argues, « performed » the « emotional acts, expressions and gestures » (121) that Houel derived from his (lay) understanding of contemporary theological and psychological theories and his expectations regarding « the emotional and spiritual practices of his audience » (133). Broomhall shows how Church teachings (e.g. that contrition required recognition of God’s sacrifice) shaped the « performance » of Houel’s manuscript (where both text and illustrations demonstrated that sacrifice) and how such teachings were deployed for purposes (such as Houel’s charity) for which they were not originally designed. But it is only when treating (all too briefly) the civic culture of the Parisian professionals that Broomhall is able to show how Houel’s treatise transformed <i>practices</i> per se into a theory of communal compassion.

In sum, this book offers many worthy–and, indeed, several brilliant–essays in the history of emotion. But it also highlights the challenges posed by the field. It is much easier to talk about various theories of emotion than it is to show how those theories were turned into practice. And, at least from the evidence here, it is very difficult to trace a direct line between emotional practices and the creation of theories of emotion.

Compte rendu de « Emotions in Medieval Arthurian Literature » (TMR)

Source : The Medieval Review

Brandsma, Frank, Carolyne Larrington, Corinne Saunders, eds, Emotions in Medieval Arthurian Literature: Body, Mind, Voice, Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2015. Pp. 210. $99.00. ISBN: 978-1-84384-421-1.

Reviewed by Christine Ferlampin-Acher
Université Rennes 2 France / Institut Universitaire de France

L’histoire des émotions, en particulier médiévales, a donné lieu à de nombreuses recherches dans la dernière décennie, comme en témoignent celles de Piroska Nagy et Damien Boquet. [1] Divers travaux, dans des perspectives variées, centrés sur le Moyen Âge ou embrassant un plus large spectre chronologique, en histoire de la philosophie et de la théologie, dans une perspective anthropologique ou dans le cadre des <i>gender studies</i>, rendent compte de l’essor de l’étude des émotions (<i>emotionology</i>). [2] Les rires et sourires, d’une part, les larmes d’autre part, qui manifestent les émotions, ont été l’objet d’un certain nombre d’études littéraires et historiques. [3]

La littérature arthurienne a elle aussi pris le <i>affective turn</i> et le <i>Arthurian Emotions Project</i>, autour de F. Brandsma, C. Larrington et C. Saunders, a organisé des sessions lors des deux derniers congrès internationaux arthuriens, en 2011 à Bristol et en 2014 à Bucarest (sur les émotions positives). Le présent volume rend compte des travaux de 2011 et aborde, dans une perspective comparatiste, la place du corps, de l’esprit et de la voix dans la construction textuelle de l’émotion.

Une première partie s’intéresse aux cadres conceptuels des représentations des émotions, à partir des approches contemporaines (philosophie, psychologie, neurosciences, anthropologie…) et des savoirs médiévaux (théorie des humeurs en particulier); une seconde partie étudie comment le corps, l’esprit et la voix rendent compte des émotions dans des textes arthuriens variés, français, anglais, moyen néerlandais et norvégiens, de Chrétien de Troyes au XVe siècle.

L’introduction, par les trois auteurs (1-10), pose le problème de l’expression de l’émotion dans le texte médiéval en partant du constat que, si elle est en général aisément perçue par le lecteur moderne (l’exemple est pris de la scène de décapitation du <i>Chevalier Vert</i> jouée à par une classe d’élèves), elle pose des problèmes méthodologiques quand il s’agit de l’étudier, dans la mesure où les mentalités (au sens large) sont différentes. Cette constatation impose de s’intéresser à la dimension philosophique de la question dans une perspective diachronique. L’introduction balaie diverses approches de l’émotion, en partant de Descartes, Spinoza et Hume, jusqu’à Deleuze et Guattari, en passant par Husserl, Heidegger et Merleau-Ponty, et en prenant en compte l’apport essentiel et récent des neurosciences. Constatant que les études médiévales se sont appropriées désormais les études sur les émotions, les auteurs soulignent l’intérêt du champ arthurien, en particulier dans sa dimension comparatiste: la matière arthurienne est riche en merveilles, en surnaturel, en peurs et en amours, et fournit une gamme variée d’émotions (plus que la chanson de geste ou l’hagiographie), et la perspective comparatiste rend possible l’évaluation des reconfigurations liées aux transferts linguistiques et culturels. L’angle d’approche (le corps, l’esprit, la voix) permet d’aborder la relation complexe entre l’action et l’émotion, essentielle dans les récits héroïques que sont les textes arthuriens.

Jane Gilbert (« Being-in-the-Arthurian-World: Emotion, Affect and Magic in the <i>Prose Lancelot</i>, Sartre and Jay, » 13-30) met en regard la philosophie sartrienne et le <i>Lancelot en prose</i>: l’émotion, comme retrait en soi ou ouverture au monde (douleur du roi Ban d’une part, joie de Lancelot d’autre part), peut s’étudier à partir des oppositions intérieur/extérieur, passif/actif. Dans le <i>Lancelot en prose</i>, un lien est établi entre pensée magique et intensité émotive et deux façons d’être au monde sont mises en évidence. La deuxième partie de l’étude s’appuie sur les neurosciences et sur Martin Jay pour analyser entre autres points la spécificité des romans en prose par rapport aux romans en vers, pour ce qui est de la représentation des émotions et de la relation à la pensée magique, en mettant en évidence deux types de rapport à la magie et à l’immédiateté du monde et de l’émotion, entre désenchantement et réenchantement.

Dans « Mind, Body and Affect in Medieval English Arthurian Romance » (31-45), Corinne Saunders s’appuie sur les représentations médiévales, pour la plupart héritées de l’Antiquité. Si l’on considère souvent le héros arthurien comme essentiellement tourné vers l’action, il n’en demeure pas moins que l’affect occupe une très grande place dans les romans. L’exemple du Chevalier au Lion, dont le comportement est éclairé par les représentations médiévales de la mélancolie, le prouve. A partir d’un corpus allant du roman de Chrétien à <i>Ywain and Gawain</i> et à Malory, en passant par <i>Sir Launfal</i> de Thomas Chester et <i>Sir Gawain and the Green Knight</i>, l’émotion peut être exprimée par une inflation du vocabulaire de l’émotion (répété), par des dialogues, voire des pensées intérieures, par des manifestations physiques: l’article dégage les spécificités de chaque témoin. A partir d’un savoir et de représentations communes, chaque texte noue à sa façon la connexion entre l’esprit, le corps et l’affect.

Andrew Lynch, dans « ‘What cheer?’ Emotion and Action in the Arthurian World » (46-63), aborde à partir de trois textes anglais s’étendant dans le temps, le <i>Brut</i> de Layamon (début du XIIIe siècle), <i>Sir Launfal</i> de Thomas Chester (fin du XIVe siècle) et <i>Le Morte Darthur</i> (1469), le problème des relations entre action et émotion. Dans le premier texte, l’émotion est liée au politique et à l’action. Le second récit est centré sur l’individu. <i>Sir Launfal</i>, faisant réapparaître le héros une fois par an, propose un autre dénouement que le lai de Marie de France, et la joie d’amour, féerique, et la joie curiale, incompatibles dans le texte français, sont complémentaires dans le texte anglais. Chez Malory, le terme <i>cheer</i> sert de marqueur émotionnel, à la fois individuel et collectif, lié à l’action et dépassant celle-ci. La diversité et l’amplitude des problématiques et des réponses proposées rendent compte de l’importance de l’approche par les émotions, dans la mesure où celles-ci dépassent largement le cadre de la narration stricte.

Dans « Ire, Peor and their Somatic Correlate in Chrétien’s Chevalier de la Charrette » (67-86), Anatole Pierre Fuksas prend en compte à la fois la mise en texte des émotions et l’effet produit sur le lecteur (en s’appuyant en particulier sur les neurosciences et la simulation induite par la lecture). Il étudie les manifestations somatiques de la peur et de la colère, en prenant en considération le large spectre sémantique des termes <i>ire</i> et <i>peor</i>, ainsi que les variantes des manuscrits donnant le texte de Chrétien. La mise en évidence de caractères miroirs, qui suggèrent au lecteur comment réagir, de l’empathie à la création du sens, éclaire le fonctionnement et le rôle des émotions dans la lecture. L’auteur montre que les émotions sont des éléments essentiels dans le système narratif et qu’elles déterminent des communautés émotionnelles, qui peuvent être genrées, mais restent suffisamment générales pour être comprises par tous.

Anne Baden-Daintree, dans « Kingship and the Intimacy in the Alliterative <i>Morte Arthure</i> » (87-104), s’interroge sur les dimensions collective et privée du chagrin d’Arthur à la mort de Gauvain. L’approche genrée suggère que le chagrin des hommes est préalable à la vengeance, et a une dimension collective, comme dans les chansons de geste. Le deuil intime d’Arthur tend à le féminiser, questionne sa virilité, tandis que le geste de recueillir le sang de Gauvain, christique, prend un sens profane quand est en jeu la vengeance. L’excès féminin que manifeste le deuil du roi prélude à la vengeance, convoquant l’espace public.

Dans « Tears and Lies: Emotions and the Ideals of Malory’s Arthurian World » (105-122), Raluca Radulescu s’intéresse à l’émotion dans ce qu’elle a d’excessif, par exemple dans la scène où Lancelot remet Guenièvre à Arthur. Le discours de Lancelot n’a pas d’équivalent dans <i>La Mort le Roi Artu</i> en français. Malory, convoquant un public invité à se projeter, suggère en confrontant Gauvain et Lancelot une réflexion sur le mauvais conseiller et une possible représentation des réalités politiques contemporaines. Les miroirs au prince contemporains, qui proposent des leçons sur la façon dont il convient de gérer les comportements (et en particulier émotionnels) permettent de contextualiser les réactions du public inscrit dans le texte aussi bien que celles du public lecteur médiéval.

La comparaison d’épisodes où Gauvain est cru mort, à tort, dans <i>Diu Crône</i> et des romans français centrés sur Gauvain (<i>Chevalier aux deux Epées</i> et <i>Atre Périlleux</i> en particulier) permet à Carolyne Larrington (« Mourning Gawein: Cognition and Affect in Diu Crône and Some French Gauvain-Texts, » 123-142) d’étudier la réponse de l’audience lorsque le chagrin repose sur une erreur et est donc inadéquat. Si la cour, dans le récit, éprouve de l’empathie, l’audience du récit, dont elle aurait pu être le miroir, se désolidarise, car elle en sait plus et elle éprouve à la fois le plaisir de la reconnaissance du topos et de la connivence avec le conteur. Le motif de la fausse mort, qui a rencontré un très vif succès, est un cas de figure particulièrement pertinent pour explorer les interactions complexes entre les émotions des personnages, individuels ou collectifs, et les émotions supposées de l’audience.

Dans « Emotion and Voice: <i>Ay</i> in Middle Dutch Arthurian Romances » (143-160), Frank Brandsma propose un bilan sur les exclamations et interjections qui sont des marqueurs d’émotion, dans un cadre général puis plus particulièrement dans les textes en moyen néerlandais, en soulignant la dimension orale et dramatique (au sens de théâtral) du roman médiéval ce qu’illustre particulièrement l’analyse des corrections de la compilation de <i>Lancelot</i>, qui ajoutent des interjections. Si ces interjections peuvent activer le rôle miroir du texte, F. Brandsma met surtout en évidence des fonctions plus fines caractérisant les emplois de <i>Ay</i>, comme la mise en valeur de l’émotion prédominante quand plusieurs émotions sont convoquées, ou la tendance à signaler surtout la tristesse, voire la peur et la colère. Ouvrant de nombreuses pistes (dont celle d’une répartition genrée des interjections) l’article montre que <i>Ay</i> est un bon indicateur de la diversité et de l’intensité des émotions dans les textes, qui apparaît surtout dans les moments dont l’impact est fort au niveau de la performance et de la lecture.

Sif Rikhardsdottir, dans « Translating Emotion : Vocalisation and Embodiment in <i>Yvain</i>, and <i>Ivens saga</i> » (161-180), compare les réactions des veuves à l’annonce de la mort de leur conjoint dans <i>Yvain</i> et dans les sagas norroises, en particulier l’adaptation d'<i>Yvain</i>, l'<i>Ivens saga</i>, et pose le problème de la transposition des représentations littéraires des émotions dans des langues et des cultures autres. Dans les sagas norroises, le vocabulaire des émotions est moins riche et moins varié que dans les textes français. Les actes, paroles ou réactions physiques, y sont plus fréquents que les émotions intérieures, et le motif de la veuve riant à la face de l’assassin est particulièrement frappant. Dans ces textes norrois, la parole comme le rire masquent l’émotion, qui prélude à la vengeance, alors que dans les textes français la parole révèle et représente l’émotion, qui s’exprime sans pour autant servir nécessairement d’embrayeur à la vengeance. Dans l’adaptation d’ <i>Yvain</i> Laudine adopte, non le comportement des veuves des sagas, mais celui de son modèle français. La traduction cependant allège l’évocation des manifestations du chagrin de Laudine, redondante dans le contexte scandinave.

Helen Cooper présente en clôture des remarques de synthèse, appuyée sur une étude de Malory (« Afterword: Malory’s Enigmatic Smiles, » 181-188), qui signale la difficulté à interpréter le rire et le sourire chez l’auteur anglais: l’émotion propose une énigme au lecteur qui invite à se confronter au détail du texte.

L’ouvrage est complété par une bibliographie (189-203) et un index des noms propres et notions (205-210).

Il s’agit d’un ouvrage particulièrement stimulant, ouvrant de nombreuses pistes comparatistes, transséculaires et transdisciplinaires, et mettant en place des jalons solides pour l’étude des émotions dans la littérature médiévale.



1. En particulier dans le cadre du projet EMMA (« Les Émotions au Moyen Âge »), qui, depuis 2006, s’est consacré à l’étude des émotions médiévales, sous la responsabilité de Damien Boquet et Piroska Nagy. Voir <i>Le sujet des émotions</i>, sous la dir. de Piroska Nagy et Damien Boquet, Paris, Beauchesne, 2009 et <i>La chair des émotions</i>, dir. Piroska Nagy et Damien Boquet, <i>Médiévales</i>, 61, 2011.

2. Voir l’article fondateur de C. Z. Stearns, « Emotionology. Clarifying the History of Emotions and Emotional Standards, » <i>American Historical Review</i> 90 (1985): 813-836, ainsi que B. H. Rosenwein, « Worrying about Emotions in History, » <i>American Historical Review</i> 107 (2002): 821-845. Pour une approche portant sur la littérature médiévale, voir Brindusa Griguriu, <i>Talent/Maltalent. Emotionologies liminaires de la littérature française</i>, Craiova, Editura Universitaria, 2012.

3. Pour un bilan déjà ancien, voir Barbara H. Rosenwein, « L’étude des émotions. Histoire de l’émotion: méthodes et approches, » <i>Cahiers de Civilisation médiévale</i> 49 (2006): 33-48.

Compte rendu de lecture de « Sensible Moyen Âge » dans « Le Monde »

Source : Le Monde

par Etienne Anheim


Sensible Moyen Age. Une histoire des émotions dans l’Occident médiéval, de Damien Boquet et Piroska Nagy, Seuil, « L’Univers historique », 480 p., 25 €.

En 1919, dans L’Automne du Moyen Age (Payot, 2002), l’historien néerlandais ­Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) soulignait «la facilité d’émotions» des médiévaux, hommes et femmes. Quelques années plus tard, le sociologue allemand Norbert Elias (1897-1990) proposait l’idée de «procès de civilisation» pour décrire l’évolution par laquelle ­l’Occident de l’époque moderne aurait ensuite rationalisé cette émotivité. Au cœur de cet entre-deux-guerres qui pouvait pourtant faire douter d’une Europe maîtresse d’elle-même, les émotions devenaient un trait marquant de la société médiévale, considérée comme un miroir ­inversé du XXe  siècle. Malgré les incitations de Lucien Febvre (1878-1956) puis l’histoire des mentalités, cette attention aux émotions du passé n’a vraiment repris vigueur qu’à la fin du siècle dernier, sous l’influence de l’historiographie américaine. L’histoire des émotions est alors devenue un champ d’études international, au croisement entre les études culturelles et les sciences cognitives.

Sensible Moyen Age, qui présente le résultat de dix années de recherches, en constitue un jalon essentiel. Il propose une interprétation globale de la place des émotions et des affects dans les sociétés médiévales, mais aussi une double prise de position méthodologique. Face au sentiment que le Moyen Age serait, de manière cohérente, une société de l’émotion exacerbée, radicalement différente de la nôtre, Piroska Nagy et Damien Boquet dépeignent des formes sociales et intellectuelles de l’émotion en perpétuelle transformation, entre le IIIesiècle et la Renaissance. Et contre l’idée inverse que les émotions pourraient être identiques à travers le temps et l’espace, car purement déterminées par des mécanismes biologiques, ils montrent qu’elles sont d’abord le fruit de constructions historiques, dont ils décrivent deux étapes majeures.

Le propre de l’homme

La fin de l’Antiquité est le moment de la christianisation des émotions, qui rompt avec les traditions antiques marquées par le stoïcisme et l’épicurisme. L’œuvre de saint Augustin, comme les ­premières expériences monastiques, lie le souci du corps et celui de l’âme. Ainsi que Michel ­Foucault (1926-1984) l’avait déjà suggéré, le christianisme stimule et contraint à la fois les émotions, qui constituent un puissant ­ciment de la communauté. Jusqu’au XIIesiècle, elles restent ­toutefois une marque non de la création mais du péché originel – une manifestation de la faiblesse humaine.

C’est alors que survient, avec les écoles et les universités, le tournant naturaliste. Les émotions, désormais tenues pour le propre de l’homme et valorisées, deviennent un objet de connaissance rationnelle. Dans le même temps, elles pénètrent au plus profond de la grammaire sociale et politique de l’Occident, participant pleinement à son économie générale. La dévotion de la fin du Moyen Age est placée sous l’égide de l’affectivité ; le pouvoir, de son exercice par le roi à sa contestation par la foule, sollicite sans trêve les émotions au sein des rapports de force. Elles ne sont donc pas une force aveugle que la raison moderne aurait fini par maîtriser.

Si les sociétés médiévales sont des mécaniques désirantes nourries par le modèle du Christ incarné, elles sont aussi des espaces de réflexion critique sur cette nouvelle puissance sociale des affects. Plutôt que d’opposer Moyen Age et modernité, ce livre permet de reconnaître la continuité dialectique à l’œuvre dans des sociétés européennes qui valorisent les émotions, en même temps qu’elles les disciplinent par un système de normes explicites. Il offre surtout d’en repérer l’inscription dans notre temps  : une subjectivité instable, un tissu social et institutionnel traversé par des passions, une conception naturaliste des affects, autant de figures médiévales qui n’ont cessé de travailler les sociétés et les savoirs modernes, de la psychanalyse à la science politique en passant par la biologie.

E. Anheim, dans Le Monde, 25 décembre 2015

Femininity and Laughter in Courtly Society (ca. 1150–1300)


Source : V&R unipress

Olga V. Trokhimenko

Constructing Virtue and Vice. Femininity and Laughter in Courtly Society (ca. 1150–1300)

253 pages
ISBN 978-3-8471-0119-2
V&R unipress

Transatlantische Studien zu Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit – Transatlantic Studies on Medieval and Early Modern Literature and Culture (TRAST) –

The study examines textual representations of women’s laughter and smiling and their imagined connection to female virtue in a wide variety of discourses and contexts of the German Middle Ages, including medieval epic, ecclesiastical texts, conduct literature, lyric, and sculpture. By engaging with the competing, and at times contradictory, views of female laughter, it reaffirms a disputatious nature of medieval culture, in which multiple views of femininity, sexuality, and virtue stood in a conflicting, yet productive, dialogue with one another. The society that emerges when one looks at medieval German texts is always ambivalent: it thrives on and enjoys talking about sensuality and eroticism, while being constrained by the conventions of polite behavior and the fear of sin; it relies on the ritual use of laughter, while marking it as a sign of lust and perdition. Women’s laughter thus offers an important way into understanding medieval views of gender because it combines physicality with shifting and conflicting cultural norms.

Compte-rendu de lecture paru dans The Medieval Review (août 2015) :

Trokhimenko, Olga V. <i>Constructing Virtue and Vice: Femininity and Laughter in Courtly Society (ca. 1150-1300)</i>. Transatlantische Studien zu Mittelalter und Früher Neuzeit, 5. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014. Pp. 253. €39.99 (hb). ISBN: 9783847101192.

Reviewed by Adam Oberlin
Universitetet i Bergen/Atlanta International School

Olga Trokhimenko’s study, as the title indicates, examines matters of gender construction, enforcement, and emotional expression from the perspectives of opposing societal forces and views toward behavior in medieval German courtly society. With a large bibliography and eighteen figures, the remaining text is relatively brief (196 pp. before the appendices, which include a table and images). Nevertheless five chapters present a thorough and wide-ranging survey of the social and gendered role of women’s laughter. Bodies, body parts, eroticism, and their regulation are discussed within simultaneously overlapping and contradictory medical, theological, literary, and visual discourses.

An introduction offers examples from the German tradition of court literature (Tristan, Parzival, Erec, etc.) in which feminine smiles and laughter herald abuse and vilification and serve as narrative turning points obvious to audiences. Trokhimenko, however, is careful to outline her subject both as a study of gesture and emotion (rather than textual representation only), and one that on the theoretical side counters a simplistic understanding of medieval emotion as unsophisticated and spontaneous via Elias and Huizinga. The linguistic polysemy of MHG <i>lachen</i> and its semantic field and the negative connotations carried over from Latin <i>risus</i> mirror for the author the conceptual ambiguity (but mostly negative aspects) surrounding the policing of women’s emotions, a thread that is woven throughout the chapters that follow.

The first chapter, « ‘You Are No Longer a Virgin’: The Two ‘Mouths’ of a Medieval Woman, » examines the genital symbolism of the female mouth and the sexual connotations of laughter and smiling within that milieu, from the MHG literary trope of the <i>roter munt</i> (red mouth) to premodern medical discourse, primarily relying on the work of Thomas Laqueur and Monica Green. Trokhimenko notes rightly that the sexual association of the two ‘mouths’ has been well studied from a number of perspectives, but she provides a compact survey, supported by contemporary evidence, of medieval German connections, punning swaps, and kissing as a logical immediate precursor to intercourse rather than an opening maneuver and symbol of sexual availability. The mouth-as-vagina image may appear in more or less nuanced guises (e.g., the courtly tradition versus the <i>Mären</i> and <i>fabliaux</i> genre) but is sufficiently widespread to anchor one side of the medieval attitude toward things women do with their mouths in a conceptual space easily understood from the unavoidable post-Freudian perspective we share in modernity.

The second chapter, « A Deeply Serious Matter: Laughter in Medieval Ecclesiastical Discourse, » begins with an unnecessary apology for stepping outside the author’s comfort zone in philological and literary study to examine the heterogeneous and diachronically unstable ecclesiastical opinions on laughter in a variety of texts. With Le Goff’s tripartite model of the stages of medieval laughter as suppression, controlled allowance, and unfettered allowance as a starting point, Trokhimenko complicates each stage with examples of beliefs held over from monastic discourses or other areas of medieval thought, though also surveying the periods with a similar two-part chronological analysis, i.e., from the Greeks and patristic writers to the high Middle Ages. Even in the early period, however, the rigidity of ideology yields to the exigency of lived experience and the monk who cannot control his laughter should therefore learn to control it. Likewise, the laughter of martyrs unsettles at the same time that it inspires. Conversely, the author demonstrates that the Church Fathers and others with repressive approaches enjoyed great popularity in the high medieval period (see the examples from <i>Von des todes gehugde</i> and <i>Die Nonnenregel</i>) and debates about their ideas found expression in literature also dealing with a seemingly increased permissiveness. Unsurprisingly the battle is fought mainly over the bodies of women, who were expected to perform virtue coded within the monastic milieu of corporeal mastery, despite what the author accurately identifies as a recognition of the Aristotelian idea that laughter is a natural human expression.

The third chapter, « ‘Men Are Not of One Mind’: Medieval Conduct Literature for Women, » opens with an episode in <i>Erec</i> where Enite and Erec are waylaid and Enite escapes the nefariously amorous intentions of their captor through the <i>schœnen list</i> of a smile, rather than the lengthy speech of Chrétien de Troyes’ French version. The sexual connotations and accompanying lack of virtue in this act, softened somewhat by Hartmann von Aue’s insistence on Enite’s cleverness, facilitate a discussion of conduct literature broadly, i.e., <i>Erziehung</i> in and through literature, which encompasses many more texts that conduct manuals alone, though the latter are also represented. The instructive texts <i>Der Winsbecke</i> and <i>Die Winsbeckin</i> of the thirteenth century allow for a gendered comparison: the former educates chiefly on activities and behaviors and the latter on the interior world of principles and emotions. <i>Der Welsche Gast</i> of Tomasin von Zerclaere addresses male laughter from the perspective of discernment and appropriate balance, while the passages on female laughter in <i>Die Winsbeckin</i> highlight control, physicality, and modesty. The chapter ends with a discussion of Ulrich von Liechtenstein’s <i>Frauenbuch</i> as–subversively in its apparent celebration of female agency–a conservative conduct lesson for women with an emphasis on obedience and silence. This text straddles both worlds that Trokhimenko wishes to illuminate while belonging firmly on the traditional side, a chartable ambiguity promised in the introduction and previous chapters.

The fourth chapter, « ‘The Pleasure Never Told’: Men’s Fantasies and Women’s Laughter in Love Lyric, » treats the previously theorized concepts within the genre of <i>Minnesang</i> from a diachronic perspective that moves beyond the typical <i>Minnesangs Frühling</i> corpus and into the wider lyric field, here mostly from Karl von Kraus’ <i>Liederdichter</i>. This welcome scope provides a view of the transition in male fantasies of women’s mouths from symbols of the unattainable lady and the poet’s secret longing where ambiguity reigns to a later, rather straightforward object of desire. Here the <i>roter munt</i> motif reaches saturation among the restricted set of features described in the lyric corpus. Within that narrow range the smile and laugh become symbolic of the male fantasy of reward and accessibility, as Trokhimenko argues; they are also gestures and linguistic expressions of gestures (kinegrams) that physically perform the fantasy in an often static setting.

The fifth and final chapter, « ‘She is Beautiful and She is Laughing’: Courtly Smiling in the Iconography of Virtue and Vice, » brings together the strands of theoretical writing and literary representation from the other chapters in an art historical examination of these themes in portal sculpture, namely of parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Mt 25:1-13). While the biblical story is sparse in detail, it grew in the commentary tradition to the point that its representation in statuary « juxtaposes not only watchfulness and carelessness, but also modesty and vanity, asceticism and worldliness, chastity and lack of moderation » (171), and clearly attempts to convey emotional expressions in the face. The foolish virgin smiles the welcome of courtly, worldly society, her virginal belt already at her feet and hand prepared to loosen her garment; in this context her smile or smirk conveys vice rather than jubilation, as may be found in sculpted angelic male countenances. Innovatively, the virgins of the <i>Magdeburger Dom</i> depict this very contrast of sexualized smiling versus jubilation in a way that Trokhimenko argues may be influenced by another native of Magdeburg not carved from stone, namely Mechthild and her book <i>Das fließende Licht der Gottheit</i>. There one does not need to extend the argument too far from the mystic conflation of worldly and spiritual joy as a means of expressing the ineffable and the expressions of the unique Magdeburg Cathedral virgins, even if it is difficult to draw a firm line from one to the other.

An epilogue summarizes the unstable foundation upon which the theorizing of smiling and laughter rested, and to a certain extent still rests, itself laid down over the natural human behaviors that are visible no matter how much they are suppressed: dynamics of power, sexuality, virtue, and courtly society are mirrored, distorted, mocked, and reinforced in the gesture or its linguistic expression. Following the epilogue are appendices containing a table of references to laughter in ‘medieval works’ in a timeline format from the early patristic authors of the third and fourth centuries to literature and iconography of the fifteenth century, as well as the eighteen figures of the wise and foolish virgins in portal sculpture discussed in chapter five. As an aid to reading, these figures would much better serve the reader if they were distributed at appropriate points throughout the text of the chapter, but they follow closely enough to make the necessary and frequent leafing only a minor irritation. The bibliography is extensive and split into several sections: primary sources and translations, lexica and reference works, and criticism and history, the last of which has three subdivisions (laughter and humor, medieval studies, and other). On the one hand, this structure complicates finding particular references in any particular section, but on the other, it makes consulting references on laughter and humor much simpler.

While <i>Constructing Virtue and Vice</i> may be situated generally within interdisciplinary studies of emotion, it is specifically concerned with the physicality of linguistic, iconographic, and gestural representations of emotion in a social context and within the gender dynamics of medieval courtly society. It is greater than the sum of its parts in that the individual chapters often cover topics that have been studied, sometimes extensively, from other perspectives, but not together and rarely from the texts of the German literary tradition that form Trokhimenko’s corpus. The author’s prose is readable and her argumentation clear, and the book would serve well in a course on medieval German literature and society or gender in history. Finally, it is refreshing to see a hardcover book offered at such an attractive price compared to the frightful heights of so many academic publishing houses.

Emotions et nation dans la littérature du Moyen Âge et de la Renaissance

Source: University of Pittsburgh

Apprendre des massacres: émotions et nation dans la littérature du Moyen Âge et de la Renaissance

Morand Métivier, Charles-Louis (2013) Apprendre des massacres: émotions et nation dans la littérature du Moyen Âge et de la Renaissance. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh.

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This dissertation examines the literary representations of massacres from the late fourteenth to the sixteenth century as challenging accepted notions of nationhood and kingship, recreating the nation as an emotional community that transcends traditional ideas of class, rank or wealth. The diachronic approach of this dissertation covers texts written over a period of two hundred years that were written in reaction to three particular massacres: the Battle of Nicopolis (September 25th, 1396), the Battle of Agincourt (October 25th, 1415), and the events of the First French War of Religion (1561-1563). The main theoretical framework of this dissertation is the idea of emotional communities developed by Barbara Rosenwein. She demonstrates that numerous emotional communities coexisted during the same period, some dominating political and social discourses, but she does not focus on the nation as an emotional community. I use the idea of emotional communities to study how massacres created the possibility for an emotional approach to the study of the nation as an assemblage of communities that redefines itself after a major defeat. I study these communities not only as isolated groups, but also as integrated parts of the nation. The emotional charge following the massacres that created these communities puts them at the center of the new image of France developed in my works, which redefines the French nation as a community of communities and the king as its emotional leader. Through close readings of Philippe de Mézieres’s Epitre lamentable et consolatoire (1397), Christine de Pizan’s Epitre de la prison de vie humaine (1418), Alain Chartier’s Livre des quatre dames (1418), the anonymous Tragédie du sac de Cabrières (1545), and Pierre de Ronsard’s Discours (1562-1565), I demonstrate how the early modern nation built itself following moments of crisis, with emotions as the medium of its creation, and with the king as the emotional cement between its different components.

Max Weber et l’étrange rationalité du capitalisme

Max Weber a-t-il été le chantre du capitalisme moderne et du triomphe de la raison occidentale ? Deux publications récentes répondent à cette question résolument par la négative et s’emploient à rectifier, en partant de prémisses fort différentes, une vision caricaturale de l’auteur de L’Éthique protestante et l’esprit du capitalisme.

Réflexion d’Isabelle Kalinowski parue dans « La vie des idé » à partir de deux ouvrages récents :

Recensés :



- Michael Löwy, La Cage d’acier. Max Weber et le marxisme wébérien, Stock, Collection « Un ordre d’idées », 2013. 200 p., 18 €.








-Michel Lallement, Tensions majeures. Max Weber, l’économie, l’érotisme, Gallimard, 2013. 288 p., 19, 90 €.


Mark Amsler, Affective Literacies: Writing and multilingualism in the later Middle Ages. Turnhout, Brepols, 2012.

Compte rendu de Xavier Biron-Ouellet

Récemment, les historiens de l’émotion ont pu remarquer la parution d’un nouvel ouvrage au titre attractif : Affective literacies : Writing and multilingualism in the later Middle Ages. L’auteur, Mark Amsler, est senior lecturer au département d’Anglais de l’université d’Auckland en Nouvelle-Zélande. Dans ce livre, il adopte les concepts et approches des New Literacy Studies et de la sociolinguistique historique afin d’analyser la manière dont l’écriture et la lecture « créent » des sujets littéraires et des cultures textuelles dans les écrits multilingues. L’auteur cherche à analyser comment les différents modes d’accès aux textes et de construction d’identité sociale fonctionnent selon des stratégies métacognitives et des pratiques linguistiques, afin de comprendre comment les luttes discursives, les différentes communautés linguistiques et les pratiques littéraires changeantes informent les cultures textuelles et les formations sociales dans le nord de l’Europe entre 1150-1510.

Malgré ce programme stimulant, l’historien des émotions ne peut qu’être déçu de constater que le concept de littéracie affective n’est qu’une notion secondaire dont il n’est question que dans un seul chapitre du livre. Dans le cadre de cet unique chapitre, le terme est utilisé pour décrire comment le sujet développe des relations physiques et somatiques avec les textes dans le cadre de ses expériences de lecture. La notion de littéracie affective sert donc à dénoter un champ de réponses émotionnelles, spirituelles, physiologiques et somatiques qu’un lecteur peut produire pendant l’acte de lecture. De fait, ce concept doit être compris en fonction de ce que les médiévistes, surtout anglo-saxons, nomment la piété affective du bas Moyen Âge. La lecture affective liée à la dévotion – soit le fait de baiser les images, pleurer, s’évanouir en lisant, etc. – transgresse la frontière entre le lecteur et le divin et construit un type personnel d’expérience et d’expression religieuses. Toutefois, M. Amsler veut élargir la sphère d’application de ce concept en affirmant que la lecture affective n’était pas entièrement délimitée par l’expérience dévotionnelle ou religieuse et qu’elle est à l’œuvre dans l’acte de lecture laïc. L’auteur argumente alors que la lecture affective chez les laïcs défie les idéologies traditionnelles de lecture. L’attitude affective face à un texte rend la relation texte-lecteur dynamique et confère un « literate power » à ces lecteurs laïcs, leur permettant de transgresser et de déranger les cadres traditionnels et orthodoxes de la littéracie, organisés autour de l’exégèse cléricale et de l’autorité ecclésiale.

Malheureusement pour l’historien de l’émotion, Amsler ne reprend pas ce concept pour analyser les textes de Chaucer, Christine de Pizan, Dante, Margery Kempe, Érasme et le Juif converti Hermann de Scheda; il préfère plutôt la notion de « retexting ». Inspiré du vocable latin retexere, Amsler définit ce terme clé en tant que geste d’écriture et de lecture against the grain, hétérodoxe aux usages traditionnels. Ainsi, l’attitude affective du sujet face à son objet textuel n’est qu’une facette potentiellement subversive parmi d’autres et elle n’est jamais clairement définie et/ou analysée pour elle-même. L’auteur reconnaît d’ailleurs cette situation dans sa conclusion et affirme explicitement que, sans la préférence éditoriale, il aurait nommé son livre Retext plutôt que Affective literacies. Ce qui exprime bien mieux le contenu de l’ouvrage.

Une histoire du non-mariage au Moyen Âge (Ruth Mazo Karras)

Il y a quelques mois, nous avons rappelé qu’avaient existé au Moyen Âge des formes d’unions entre personnes de même sexe, qui n’étaient pas des mariages mais n’en manifestaient pas moins une capacité à créer de l’engagement affectif, social voire politique. Récemment, l’une des meilleures spécialistes des questions de genre au Moyen Âge a publié une bienvenue histoire de la diversité des formes d’unions entre hommes et femmes, qui là non plus ne se réduisaient pas au mariage canonique, loin s’en faut. D’où le titre facétieux de son livre : « Les non-mariages »

Je reproduis ci-dessous le compte-rendu paru dans « The Medieval Review », en espérant que livre sera rapidement traduit en français et en attenant peut-être un débat prochain, qui pourrait bien être passionnant, sur le non-mariage pour tous…





Karras, Ruth Mazo.  <i>Unmarriages.  Women, Men and Sexual Unions in the Middle Ages</i>. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.  Pp.  283.  $ 49.95.  ISBN-13: 9780812244205.

Reviewed by Walter Prevenier
University of Ghent

This book makes me happy for many reasons. For years I have admired
Ruth Karras for the outstanding originality of her former studies, but
this is certainly her most challenging. It has the sharpest analysis I
have read on the complexity of the many forms of marriage and
alternative companionship in the Middle Ages. Karras describes the
phenomenon with a slightly ironical, convenient overarching term,
« unmarriages. » In the past many historians worked on formal marriages,
others on clandestine unions, and others on concubinage and adultery.
Here we get them all together in one global overview, and the variety
is much broader than these four formats. Karras’ thesis is that there
was never one unique model of marriage, rather an impressive plurality
of alternative forms of cohabitation, displaying a lot of individual
creativity and some critical disrespect for the ecclesiastical rituals
and the civic rules of the game. I appreciate that Karras, more than
most historians in the past, does not hesitate to reveal that her
observation of the contested nature of marriage in today’s society was
her source of inspiration. I also like her statement that looking into
the mirror of the past is a challenge for all current ideological
groups with opposing views on marriage, both those basing their claims
on tradition and those claiming that cultural changes should provoke
changes in the form of marriage: « only by historicizing marriage can we
see the inherent illogic of claims that there is only one ‘real’ form »

Secondly I appreciate Karras’ fierce reaction against another false
perception that considers medieval society as a monolithic repository
of tradition. This study claims that medieval communities focused
rather on adaptability, creativity, and flexibility. Many medieval
women and men found indeed countless appropriate roads to escape all
forms of interference in matters of marriage and sexual activities, and
all ways to avoid calculations of parents related to family patrimony
and dowry regulations. Their intended, often discouraged, formats
varied from socially mixed marriages, clandestine marriages,
quasi-marital unions, interreligious and international unions,
concubinage, living apart together. Karras warns us from the beginning
that she excluded two categories from a systematic analysis in this
book: same-sex couples and spiritual unions with other persons or with
Christ (chastity unions), because recent and exhaustive scholarship on
these points is available, respectively by James Brundage and Dyan

A third originality of this book is that it takes into account all the
« powers » that had the ambition to regulate and influence human
companionships in the direction of traditional and conservative
marriages: the Church, civic authorities, urban elites, parents, and
extended families.

How did Karras find the reverse side of the coin?  For chapter 1 (« The
Church and the Regulation of Unions between Women and Men »), chapter 2
(« Unequal Unions ») and the first part of chapter 3 (« Priests and their
Partners ») she relies essentially on an impressive and well selected
collection of specialized literature, secondary sources and printed
primary sources. For the second part of chapter 3, on priests, and for
the entire chapter 4, « On the Margins of Marriage, » she turned to
totally new and unexplored materials. She worked here in essence with
the civil and the criminal registers of the Archdeaconry of Paris from
1483 to 1505, those of Brie from 1499 to 1505, and the register of the
Officiality of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris from 1486 to 1498.
I consider this a justifiable selection, limited in time but fair,
because it is a set of unedited and virtually unexplored documentary
materials, and because these sources are superbly contextualized with a
rich collection of related secondary literature. The weakness of this
choice, however, is double. All the material comes from ecclesiastical
authorities and gives a limited and one-sided approach to the picture.
More importantly, while the comparative focus is present, especially
for France and England, it is not prominent enough for Germany,
Mediterrenean Europe and the Low Countries, where a lot of solid
analysis is available that would have allowed Karras to discover the
specificity of the « unmarriage » sensibilities in the Parisian
microcosm. The limited use of material from the Low Countries is
especially unfortunate. One article by Monique Vleeschouwers Van
Melkebeek has been used (249), but this author produced several other
books and articles in which she develops exactly the same themes which
are crucial in the Paris officiality registers. Some of these would
have been wonderful in the comparative mood, such as: Monique
Vleeschouwers-Van Melkebeek, « Aspects du lien matrimonial dans le Liber
Sentenciarum de Bruxelles (1448-1459), » <i>Revue de l’histoire du
Droit</i> 53 (1985):  49-67; and « Classical Canon Law on Marriage. The
Making and Breaking of Households, » in Myriam Carlier and Tim Soens,
eds., <i>The Household in Late Medieval Cities. Italy and Northwestern
Europe Compared</i>, Louvain and Apeldoorn, 2001, 15-23. A third
article (« Bina matrimonia: matrimonium praesumptum versus matrimonium
manifestum, » in Serge Dauchy et al., eds., <i> Auctoritates xenia R.C.
Van Caenegem oblata</i>,  Iuris scripta historica 13 (1997): 245-55)
would have been helpful for decoding the rather cryptic Parisian texts,
such as the one on « presumed marriage » on p. 170.  I give one other
lacuna: the materials of the magnificent collection of marriage
contracts from fifteenth-century Douai analysed by Martha Howell in
<i>The Marriage Exchange. Property, Social Place, and Gender in Cities
of the Low Countries, 1300-1550</i> (Chicago and London, 1998). Douai
shows a very typical variant of marriage conditions and couple
relations, as it was a city with a preponderance of small family
businesses and nuclear households, in which couples’ common
responsibilities were considerable, and greater than in most other
cities. Interesting contrasts with the Ile de France have been
developed by Philippe Godding in « La famille dans le droit urbain de
l’Europe du Nord-Ouest au bas moyen-âge, » in Myriam Carlier and Tim
Soens, eds., <i>The Household in Late Medieval Cities. Italy and
Northwestern Europe Compared</i> (Louvain and Apeldoorn, 2001). Anyway,
I consider Karras’s case study on the Parisian area a significant
monograph that will be a cornerstone for a later synthesis within a
broader European frame. Karras refers indeed to that future
perspective, and very wisely warns us that the patterns of behavior in
Paris are not necessarily typical for the rest of medieval Europe (172).

However erudite and solidly professionally documented it may be, this
marvelous book reads like an exciting novel.  It is full of unexpected
and challenging information and wonderful anecdotes. I quote a few of
them. The long chapter on « unequal unions » (68-114) reveals the fact
that socially mixed marriages were not such an exceptional phenomenon
as many historians presumed in the past, but it also displays the
incredible variety of mixed conditions. Especially unions including
concubines present the most sophisticated forms of statutes and of
dowry regulations. The sexual use of servants, and even more of slaves,
was regular conduct for men of the master class; especially for their
younger family members it was an appealing and cheap alternative for
the relatively impersonal visits to prostitutes (90). Marriage by
members of the elites with their servants was, however, another story;
most families found servants unsuitable as partners. Those mixed unions
were mostly considered as « shameful, infamous and vile » (97). In all
these conditions one could never escape the notion of honor. A
lower-class free man marrying a former slave might not lose much honor,
but an upper-class man certainly would. The adultery of a wife,
especially with a slave or a person of low status, was considered a
much bigger dishonor for her family than similar activities by her
husband (98). Don’t miss the statement « sans façons » of Pierrette
Flatret about her partner Aimery de Beauvais, who had left her fourteen
years earlier, nevertheless maintained Pierrette for twelve of those
fourteen years during which they had five children together. All this
time he promised to marry her, but refrained. In Pierrette’s complaint
about this failure before the official of Paris, apparently in a rather
indecent terminology, she used one unforgettable expression of perfect
female self-consciousness: « that no man would be the master of her cunt
and that she would do what she wanted with it » (206).

A well developed section in this book is the rich chapter on the
behavior of « priests and their partners » (115-164). I fully agree with
the remark: « the church did not speak with a unified voice » (25). There
was indeed no one behavior within the clergy. The general theory was
one of celibacy and sexual abstinence. The practice was a lot of
cohabitation and <i>de facto</i> marriage of priests. Since the
Councils of 1123 and 1139 declared clerical marriages invalid, these
unions became automatically concubinage, a situation that was welcomed
by many parishioners, but perceived with hostility by others. The
fifteenth-century Parisian theologian Jean Gerson declared that
clerical concubinage should be tolerated for the same reasons as public
prostitution. Protestants, in later times, equally showed tolerance for
marriages of priests as a lesser evil. Karras makes here an interesting
comparison with the contrasting reactions to gay couples in many parts
of the United States in the twenty-first century (116).  In theory
adult priests’ sons were denied access to holy orders, as was generally
the case for all illegitimate children; but for both categories escape
was possible, by papal dispensation and by intervention of lay patrons
(140-141). The rich variety of terms for priests’ wives or former wives
(servant, hearthmaid or handmaid to whore, domestic, prostitute or
concubine) are a perfect mirror of a dominant negative public opinion
about these women (134-135). Karras rightly insists on the legal
insecurity of priests’ partners: they risked being repudiated at any
time (164). But I would add that even greater was the social handicap
of a former priest’s concubine on the marriage market as a result of a
stigma that is well documented by sources from the Low Countries.

A table on page 154 presents interesting statistics on the different
types of clerical sexual offenses in the register of the Archdeacon of
Paris between 1483 and 1505: 299 cases in 22 years. I regret that a
systematic comparative approach is omitted here, and that no effort is
made to confront the amount of offenses for each type of misbehavior
with similar lists available for Tournai (and Cambrai) and Canterbury
for the same period, mentioned on pages 151-152. That approach would
have shown if the methods and norms for repression of clerical offenses
in the Parisian area were specific to that region or not. I regret a
second omission: Karras brings the crucial question to the table of how
these clerical offenses came to the attention of the episcopal
authorities (151-2), followed by a very short comment on realistic and
false reports by parishioners to bishops. In fact a very formal and
effective structure had been active in these matters in several parts
of Europe, the parochial synod (Sendgericht in the German areas), a
local institution composed of the parish priest (at least if he was not
accused himself) and a group of « honorable » burghers, acting as a
watchdog and a moral commission. It existed since the Merovingian
period, and it remained active in most parts of Europe, at least until
the end of the Middle Ages. For the later Middle Ages there is an
excellent monograph by Daniel Lambrecht, <i>De parochiale synode in het
oude bisdom Doornik gesitueerd in de Europese ontwikkeling, 11de
eeuw-1559</i> (Brussels, 1984) with a well developed international
overview and discussion of the Archdeaconry of Paris on pages 272-273.
This ecclesiastical technique of denunciation is close to that of some
civil institutions, like the Onestà, active in Florence since 1403
(Richard C. Trexler, « La prostitution florentine au XVe siècle, »
<i>Annales: Économies, Sociétiés, Civlisations</i> 36 (1981):
983-1015). We should also refer to a systematic analysis of the
repression of moral transgressions by episcopal courts in France and in
the Burgundian Netherlands: Véronique Beaulande, <i>Le malheur d’être
exclu? : excommunication, réconciliation et société à la fin du Moyen
Âge</i> (Paris, 2006), especially on pages 107-128.

Karras has a fine empathy for the use by contemporaries of
psychological arguments, as in the case before the Archdeaconry of
Paris in which the judge strangely fined two partners, although living
together in the same conditions under one roof, for different offenses.
The woman was fined for clandestine marriage, her husband for carnal
knowledge. Karras suggests that the court fined them in essence for
what each had confessed, and that the court apparently did not care
about and did not make a decision regarding the type of companionship
the couple had (170).  We should not be amazed. So many formats of
living together were available in the fifteenth century that not only
simple contemporaries but even well-educated judges completely lost the
scent in this imbroglio, and had doubts about how to determine the
exact quality of the cohabitation. Very often the line of marriage was
not clearly drawn and the formal rules were not applied, particularly
if no dowry or financial arrangements were on the table (201). This
magnificent book explains perfectly well why between concubinage and
clandestine marriage there was often no more than a very fine line.

The Medieval Review