Heroines of the French Epic

March 2014
434 pages
23.4x15.6 cm

Heroines of the French Epic

A second selection of chansons de geste

Translated by Michael A.H. Newth

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The epic tales of medieval France, called chansons de geste, or "songs of deeds", provided the chief means of cultural and imaginative expression in the French language for over one hundred and fifty years (c.1100-1250), during one of the most significant periods of social change in the history of Western civilisation. Yet they remain largely unknown to most English-speaking readers of the twenty-first century. In Heroes of the Old French Epic (Boydell, 2005) Michael Newth translated a selection of the traditional militaristic narratives dominated by male heroes. This oral-based epic genre was increasingly influenced by the ethos of romance, and the present volume offers full English verse translations of six more of these songs, each chosen this time to illustrate the range of roles gradually accorded to women in these originally militaristic narratives. Four key narrative roles have been selected - woman as helpmeet, woman as lover, woman as victim, and woman as spiritual model - in order to illustrate some major changes in the social status of women that took place during the period of this popular genre's existence. These poems are a key witness to the final stages of the chansons de geste before they were overtaken by the new fashion for the fictions of courtly romance. Apart from "The Capture of Orange", which has never been translated into modern English verse, none of the poems have yet appeared in English translation.

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This is a book that should have a key place on the shelves of all keen medievalists and anyone interested in French literature....Newth is a skilled and experienced translator of the genre: this edition is highly recommended. PARERGON

Michael Newth's volume constitutes a companion to his Heroes of the Old French Epic. . . . As such, the volume contributes to our awareness of changes within the social status of women in the period concerned (the translations here date from 1150 to 1270) and also to the study of the changing form and content of the original orally composed epic poems. SPECULUM

Newth's vast understanding of heroine identification, coupled with his seamless translations of this elegant prose, proves to be a much welcome addition to modern gendered scholarship. FRENCH HISTORY

"...an interesting collection for those interested in the genre or in women in medieval France." CHOICE

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