Marie de France (c. Late 12th Century)-
Marie de France is best known as the author of the Lais of Marie de France, a collection of narrative poems that discuss love, suffering, cultural and social roles (and what happens, in some cases, when those expectations are flouted), and power in the context of Celtic mythical, fairy tale-like settings.
Not much is known about Marie de France, such as who she was or when she was born. The name itself is a pen name, taken from an epilogue of one of her collection of fables: “Marie ai num, si sui de France.” (Marie is my name, and I am from France.) However, she was very well educated and was proficient in French, Latin and English. Her lais often take as a theme love that defied established Church or societal roles (adultery is a common touchstone), and the lovers often came to a bad end. Despite this, though, the lovers themselves are important and their immediate society is poorer without them.
The lais had a large literary impact on the medieval romance genre as it developed. She was most likely known to the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine, and her influences can be picked up in her contemporaries’ works, such as Chrétien de Troyes. Even Geoffrey Chaucer makes a nod to Marie de France’s lais in his Canterbury Tales.
(Total personal note: Marie de France is one of my favorites and reminds me a lot of Murasaki Shikibu. There are some similarities between the lais and Tale of Genji….the source of a future (or past) academic paper, perhaps?)
More on Marie de France >
Read a version of her translated Lais here >