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Fetal Personhood and Voice in Medieval French Literature

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 November 2021


This essay examines medieval French literary representations of fetal speech and proposes a new understanding of medieval conceptions of personhood. Placing passages from the Roman de Fauvel, Histoire de Marie et de Jésus, Pelerinage de Jhesucrist, and Tristan de Nanteuil in conversation with elements of thirteenth-century theological, encyclopedic, and scientific discourses, as well as with contemporary sound studies and theories of the voice, this essay shows that emergent human personhood is constructed in medieval texts as an audible social phenomenon. Medieval personhood is a notion reliant on sound and speech, and thus on the presence of an audience: a person is a composite of body and soul occupying a social and vocalic space shared with other persons. This relational understanding allows for a redefinition of personhood: not as a quality originating at a fixed point in human development but as a social and sensory experience.

PMLA , Volume 136 , Issue 5 , October 2021 , pp. 696 - 710
Copyright © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Modern Language Association of America

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