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Abstract

This dissertation offers a reevaluation of the Old French romance genre on the basis of gender and adventure. I challenge a view of romance adventure that solely privileges the male individual, showing that models for female and coupled adventure not only exist in romance, but are numerous, serving as sites for the interrogation and transformation of the knightly model. While the concept of adventure has long been recognized as a complex and multifaceted aspect of romance fiction, the critical focus on the male protagonist has remained largely unquestioned, and in turn this focus has generated theories of narrative subjectivity based on the concept of the male individual as the subject of adventure. My study examines identity, subjectivity, and narrativity as they relate to female adventure in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Old French romance, with extensive analyses of the Roman de Silence, Aucassin et Nicolette, and Guillaume de Palerne. Importantly, these female-centered romances display an evident interest in gender, demonstrating that writers of romance fiction were conscious of the gender dynamics to which their works respond, as they sought to examine and innovate upon these dynamics in dialogue with current social and political issues. In my introduction, I set the stage for my analyses by exploring the generic horizons of romance fiction, different models for female protagonism and adventure in romance and saints’ lives, critical concepts of adventure and of the knightly protagonist, and questions of subjectivity. My first chapter, on the Roman de Silence, argues that the romance recasts adventure as a site of performative prowess in which performance itself becomes the central narrative interest and generator of conflict, resolution, and suspense, reflecting Silence’s own gendered circumstances. The forms of physical prowess that accrue to the reputation of the knightly protagonist are shown to be illusory in the case of Silence, prompting an examination of the relationship between female adventure and identity. I also show how the text emphasizes the way in which adventure is constructed through language, or as a narrative phenomenon. My second chapter presents a new reading of the chantefable Aucassin et Nicolette by looking at the work within its Occitan setting, considering this setting in light of the chantefable’s northern French audience and place of composition. I look at representations, stereotypes, and historical realities of women and gender in Occitania in order to reframe the relationship between Aucassin and Nicolette, as well as Nicolette’s active narrative role. I also consider the influence of Occitania’s multicultural market economy on the narrative’s presentation of conflict and exchange. My final chapter foregrounds the adventuring couple and takes up the tension between social identity and adventure in Guillaume de Palerne. I read Guillaume and Mélior’s adventure in relation to desire and social identity, the space of adventure and the space of the court, and desire and consent, particularly as related to marital practices. I argue that Guillaume de Palerne stages an unresolved tension between narrative adventure and the socio-political world to which its protagonists belong.

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