Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-wg55d Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-22T18:04:55.037Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

4 - Affirming Absence and Embracing Nothing: on the Paradoxical Place of Heterosexual Sex in Medieval French Verse Romance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 April 2021

Get access

Summary

For Leo Bersani, ‘There is a big secret about sex: most people don't like it’. As it regards medieval French verse romance, the secret seems to be out. While troubadour lyrics focus on suspended desire, which goes nowhere, coitus usually occurs, or can be presumed to occur, in romance. Yet, if romance ‘reintroduces the deed (fach)’ into fin’amor, as Jean-Charles Huchet puts it, it then seems uninterested in representing it. Fabliaux ‘speak openly, often crudely, about human genitalia and their various functions in the sex act’. Romances rarely do.

Yet, I contend, coitus is not so much disregarded by romance as it is an insistent absence, with an important, though paradoxical, place in the genre's poetics and politics. This essay explores the understudied space of heterosexual coitus in verse romance – focusing especially on Arthurian romance – in three movements. I first consider romance plots in relation to canon law, which flourished at roughly the same time (c. 1140–1240). Juxtaposing the two suggests that romance is more con cerned with specific sexual behaviours, foremost coitus, than criticism generally assumes; yet, it also points to how romance's engagement with coitus is curiously, and persistently, implicit. I then turn to sex scenes in different romances, which corroborate the idea that coitus is paradoxically present in its absence. For rather than representing explicit sex, romance narrators – such as Chrétien's – have a tendency to insist, often dramatically and self-consciously, on what they cannot or will not say. One term best embodies romance's contradictory attitude towards sex: li sorplus, ‘the rest’. Frequently figuring in sex scenes, this term appears to reflect a desire not to spell out what is happening; there is hugging, kissing and then ‘the rest’. With Huchet, I shall argue, though, that the sorplus is also a profound statement that indicates the space of that which cannot be expressed; the rhetoric of romance does not so much exclude sex as it includes its exclusion, often via quite conspicuous narratorial interventions. The final section of this essay theorizes why romance relates so peculiarly to sex. I suggest that heterosexual sex occupies a paradoxical space in medieval French verse romance, because it has a paradoxical relationship to patriarchy.

Type
Chapter
Information
Arthurian Literature XXXVI
Sacred Space and Place in Arthurian Romance
, pp. 79 - 104
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2021

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×