French Romance, Medieval Sweden and the Europeanisation of Culture
Dr Loden, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about your new book French Romance, Medieval Sweden and the Europeanisation of Culture, which was published just last month! Can you please summarise your study for our readers?
My book is an attempt to cast new light on the European dimensions of medieval courtly literature, with a special focus on the Swedish translations and adaptations of French romances. I look at four particular textual traditions that are supposed to have originated in the Francophone context and that all reached medieval Sweden: Le Chevalier au lion, Floire et Blancheflor, Valentin et Orson and Paris et Vienne. Most of these texts were translated through the intermediary of other European languages and I try to consider the Swedish texts in relation to these other versions, as well as to other European versions. Together, these texts reflect the difficulty of considering medieval literature in separate national contexts – all four narratives that I discuss are European above all.
Was there something from your research that you found especially interesting?
My study looks at four specific themes – female characters, children, animals and masculinity. I enjoyed working on all of these aspects, but I found it particularly interesting to study different medieval views of animals and the borders between animals and humans.
What led you down this path? Have you always been interested in investigating medieval literature?
I read a lot as a child and teenager, but it was during my year as an Erasmus-student in Poitiers, when I was 19 years old, that I got interested in medieval literature – thanks to the scholars at the University of Poitiers, who taught introductory courses to medieval French language and literature. The medieval texts that I read in Poitiers opened up a new world to me and I was seduced by the many differences between medieval and modern aesthetic. Today, I don’t think that these differences should be exaggerated…
Can you elaborate on what the Europeanisation of Culture means in the context of your study?
I argue that the French romance contributed to the Europeanisation of medieval culture. Through its wide dissemination across linguistic and culture borders, it laid the ground for a shared and yet diverse European literature. Specific literary themes, such as love, seem to hold different traditions and linguistic contexts together, as well as the fascination with animals and shapeshifting creatures. I believe that these themes could be seen as parts of the Europeanisation process.
You state that French romance played a key role in the formation of a national literature in Sweden, can you elaborate on this? Is this still seen in Swedish literature today?
What we refer to today as “Swedish literature” was born through influences from abroad, not only from France. The first preserved Swedish literary texts of more substantial length are three translations – the Eufemiavisor – that date back to the early fourteenth century: Herr Ivan, which goes back to Chrétien de Troyes’ Le Chevalier au lion, Hertig Fredrik av Normandie, a text with no preserved sources, which is said to be translated from a German version of a French original, and Flores och Blanzeflor, translated from the Old West Norse rewriting of Floire et Blancheflor. Thus, at the same time as the French romance took part in the Europeanisation of medieval culture, it also contributed to the emergence of a national literature in Sweden. New literary traditions can often be traced back to translations – and this is very much the case in medieval Europe.
What is next for you?
Writing a book is a solitary activity, so I feel very excited about collaboration with other scholars now that my book is finished. I am also working on a new monograph on borders and landscapes in the Arthurian romance, which I would like to send to Boydell & Brewer before long…
We like to finish with the same question to all our contributors. Naturally, we hope you have stayed well throughout the last year but how has your work been affected by lockdowns and restricted access to libraries and archives?
I had been travelling and moving around a lot before the pandemic, between different places in Sweden as well as between Sweden, Italy and France, and luckily enough, I had collected many sources. The fact that one conference after another was cancelled last year gave me time to focus on my main projects: finishing this book and start writing a new book. After almost a year of working from home, I dream of visiting friends and colleagues abroad, take my children to museums and theatres, and spend time with my parents outside of Facetime – but I do not want to go back to exactly how life was before this crisis.
By Sofia Lodén
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SOFIA LODÉN is a Pro Futura Scientia XII Fellow at Stockholm University and the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in Uppsala. In 2020 she was appointed member of the Young Academy of Sweden.