Passionate, eloquent and determined: Heroines’ tales and feminine poetics

by Helen Cooper

18 Oct 2016
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Full text posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 4, pp. 221-244.

Abstract: This article studies a group of romances, appearing first in French in the mid-12th century in the Roman d’Eneas, and later in Anglo-Norman and Middle English (including Ipomadon and William of Palerne), in which the heroine is given priority over the male protagonist in falling in love and acting to bring that love to fruition. These relationships are aimed at marriage and, very often, procreation, in a way that opens the potential for the founding of a dynasty; they thus go against received ideas of both courtly love and antifeminism. The texts are characterised by long soliloquies given to the heroines that anticipate the Petrarchan discourse of desire, though here it is distinctively feminine and carries the hope of fulfilment; and fulfilment and mutuality are in turn given their own distinctive, mimetic form of poetry.

Keywords: medieval romance, Anglo-Norman romance, Middle English romance, feminine poetics, Petrarchism, Roman d’Eneas, Ipomadon, William of Palerne.

Sir Israel Gollancz Memorial Lecture, read 12 April 2016 (audio recording).

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