Selected Article


Reading Mélusine : romance manuscripts and their audiences c.1380-c.1530


This thesis explores the historical reception of the prose Roman de Melusine and the poetic Roman de Parthenay from the twin perspectives of the romance manuscripts and their audiences. The Melusine romances attained wide popularity in manuscript form from their composition in the late fourteenth century until the early sixteenth century. By investigating the patronage, presentation, and ownership of the romance manuscripts, I ask how and why the works appealed to and retained their hold on later medieval imaginations? What cultural values did the romances express or reflect and what meanings did they attain which might have facilitated their circulation far beyond the boundaries of Poitou? In exploring these questions, my study offers a nuanced historical appraisal of the place of the Melusine romances in the cultural lives of late medieval Francophone audiences. The Melusine romances are located in over thirty surviving manuscripts. Employing an interdisciplinary approach, my research analyses the relationships between the themes expressed in these manuscripts, and the historical concerns of the French and Flemish nobility who constituted the romances’ primary audience. In addition to exploring and revising conventional explanations for the patronage of the romances, I examine the textual, paratextual, and decorative mouvance to which the romances were subject, and the intertextual relationships created by the inclusion of the romances within compilation manuscripts. From this analysis, I identify a series of themes which demonstrably intersected with the interests and anxieties of noble reading communities among whom the manuscripts circulated. This thesis thus complements and extends existing studies of manuscript decoration and the historical reception of early editions of the prose Melusine romance which were enjoyed by a cross-section of social groups from the 1470s onwards. My research suggests that the Melusine romances attained a significant position in late medieval noble culture for two interrelated reasons. First, the medium of the manuscript itself offered a flexible format which accommodated the changing preferences of patrons and audiences of the romances. Second, and paradoxically, Melusine manuscripts persistently expressed a range of concepts and attitudes of enduring relevance to their noble audiences with respect to: issues of dynastic prestige and the legitimacy of territorial tenure; metaphysical and spiritual concerns about fate and salvation; political propaganda; government; and education. The value of my study lies in the insights it offers into the mentalites of the later medieval nobility, a numerically small but influential social group, and the relationships between elite audiences and their preferred forms of literate culture. This thesis extends scholarly understandings of, and offers fresh hypotheses for the patronage of the Roman de Melusine and the Roman de Parthenay respectively. Further, it contextualises its analysis of the Melusine manuscripts and compilation contents in the light of historical events and concerns confronting late medieval noble audiences. It thus demonstrates the importance of combining literary and historical approaches when exploring the values and meanings attached to historical literature. While historical and literary approaches each offer unique insights into medieval understandings of a work, it is only by contextualising each set of findings produced by the two modes of analysis against each other that a nuanced appreciation of a literary work’s historical role and importance can be produced.