The Nature of Nurture:
Reflected Postmodernism in Dhuoda's Liber Manualis and Heldris de Cornuälle's Roman de Silence
From the postmodern view, texts no longer represent absolute
revelations of the author's intentions. There is a gap between what
the author is saying and what the text says. Another way of looking
at this concept is acknowledging the inevitable constructiveness of
written texts and the multiplicity of interpretative perspectives.
However, for authors who emphasize their presence in the text, how
might their self-conscious
teachings also work to
illustrate notions of a text's
indeterminacy? It is through
this issue of
nurture that I wish to bring into comparison
the ninth century Latin text Liber Manualis and the
thirteenth century French romance, Roman de
Silence. On the topic of nurture, Dhuoda's Liber
Manualis presents the teachings of a Carolingian mother to her
son on how to become a noble man, while Roman de
Silence is narrated by the otherwise unknown Heldris de
Cornuälle, who depicts his work as a comment on how to become a
noble woman. I would like to examine how the two authors carry out
this process of
nurturing. Why does Dhuoda create and
intermix different identities in her text, and why does Heldris
provide different mirroring images in his work? Is it a social
question or a textual question? Who is the teacher, what is being
taught, and how does one teach? By examining the two texts together,
I argue that by creating the multiplicity of voices and
acknowledging their constructiveness and instability, both medieval
texts come to show how the
nature of a work can only speak
nurtured image. Being composed of multiple
mirror reflections that proliferate through their
inter-reflectiveness, these texts eventually come to present the
postmodern view of how a literary text's
sustains its identity and potential through the very
constructiveness of its multiple interpretations and
Liber Manualis: Multiple Identities
Scholars who have discussed Dhuoda's Liber
Manualis have argued over whether Dhuoda identifies herself as a
mother, a Carolingian woman, a Christian, or a writer1. Among the
diversity of images in the two texts, who is the ultimate teacher or
role model she intends to present to her son? For the most part,
Dhuoda's Liber Manualis has often been categorized
Speculum Genre. In defining this term, Karen
Authors of the speculum generally envision for
their works a dual purpose: that the mirror presents an ideal
image of the good Christian ruler, and that by contemplating that
image, the reader would gain a sense of the health (or sickness)
of his soul. (52)The speculum text is viewed as a
mirror of God which is then used to reflect the inner qualities of
the human. In this sense, the text becomes the mirrored image of
both God and the reader. However, what also needs to be noted here
is that the image of God is constructed through a text which is
written by an author. The presented image is not God himself but
rather a mirroring of Him. This understanding of the text as only a
mirror of God points to the significance of the author's role in the
mirroring process. The final product becomes a reflection of choices
in terms of what is reflected and how it is reflected. This
awareness of the author's decisive position in the mirroring process
is consciously amplified in Dhuoda's Liber Manualis.
As Marie Anne Mayeski writes,
she (Dhuoda) appropriates the
Bible with the full play of methods at her disposal, methods based
on liturgical typology and allegory as well as grammatical studies.
The Bible, for her, is the framework and narrative of her own story
and that of her family (5). Rather than saying that the truth of
the scripture becomes part of her and her family's doctrines, it is
more importantly that she and her family are, in fact, the
constructors of this Scriptural doctrine truth. It is not only
her own version of the conviction that 'all politics are
local' (Mayeski 5), but also her emphasis on how the personal
can become public.
Is Dhuoda a theologian then? In Mayeski's book, Dhuoda: Ninth
Century Mother and Theologian, she argues for the significance
of studying Dhuoda's text as a way to
broaden our understanding
of early medieval biblical interpretation (8). However, the
purpose of my paper is not to investigate how Dhuoda reads the
bible, but instead how she emphasizes the interpretivesness and
constructiveness of her writings. From the beginning of Liber Manualis, Dhuoda clearly states her identity as a
writer and a teacher.
Volo enim ut simili modoin tribus lineis secundum
auctoritatis seriem utilissimum habeat nomen: id ist Norma, Forma
et Manualis. Quod utrumque hae partes locutionis in nos
specietenus continentur cuncta: Norma ex me, Forma in te, Manualis
tam ex me quam in te, ex me collectus, in te receptus. (Incipit
(I would like it to be called three things at
once, as befits its contents—rule, model, and handbook. These
terms all mirror each other. The rule comes from me, the model is
for you, and the handbook is as much from me as for you—composed
by me, received by you.)
Dhuoda affirms herself to be
the writer of these rules which should serve as the model for
William to aspire. This manualis will serve as the
teacher and model for her son. She also appears to claim her
authority as an author through the way in which she she selects and
recombines the different passages from the Bible. Her quotes may
come from the Bible, yet they are elected and reorganized to fit
her own needs and purposes as a writer. Dhuoda even directly
emphasizes the priority of her own interpretations over the original
writings of the Scripture in the part where she purposely misquotes
the lines in St. Paul2. She states that,
Et licet aliter
hoc in loco uoluatur sensus, prop certis differentium causis, ego
uolo ut ita teneas sicut fateor (VII.1.16–18) (Although the sense of this
passage does not exactly fit my meaning, I wish you to understand it
according to my context here). This does not mean that
Dhuoda regards her words as more adequate than the Scripture, but
more in the sense that since this is her text, her words and
intentions should hold more authority. Here, she also makes claims
for legitimacy of interpretation. Many scholars have pointed out
that Dhuoda's quotations show how she appears to be quite oblivious
to traditional exegesis3, which understood from another point of
view, can be taken as her way of making the passages become her own
words. Just as a text can only find meaning in the interpretations
of its readers, the teachings of God can also only become
exemplified through the multiple readings of the Bible. This
combination of God's image with her own image follows the
aforementioned experience of the speculum reader. In other
words, rather than simply aiming to reflect the image of God,
Dhuoda's text reflects the combined image of God and herself, which
then becomes the newly created image of Dhuoda. Just as when Dhuoda
begins her Handbook in the name of the Holy Trinity and goes on to
Hoc opusculum ex nomine meo scriptum in tuam
specietenus forman legendi dirigo, gaudens quod si absens sum
corpore, iste praesens libellus tibi ad mentum reducat quid erga
me, cum legeris, debeas agere. (Sanctae Trinitatis
(So I send you this little work
written down in my name, that you may read it for your education,
as king of mirror. And I rejoice that, even if I am apart from you
in body, the little book before you may remind you, when you read
it, of what you should do on my behalf.)
This shows how Dhuoda strongly stresses the idea
that this is
her book written in
her name which
should be read and carried out on
her behalf. The reference
opsusculum is also ambiguous. Of whom is
the Liber Manualis a mirror? God or Dhuoda? This
ambiguity not only suggests the combination of the two, but also
connotes the impression that the teachings of God have now become
the speeches of Dhuoda. M.A. Claussen argues that,
Dhuoda, the manual is in fact like the Bible and like Scripture. It
has everything necessary for salvation and success, and it can be
completely understood only with divine assistance (798). As in
the passage when Dhuoda says to William that
futurum est, habes hic memoriale libbellum moralis, et quasi in
picturam specula, me mente et corpore legendo et Deum deprecando
intureri possis (I.7.16–18) (In the future, should I fail you by my
absence, you have this little moral work as a reminder so that as
you read in spirit and body and as you pray to God you may be able
to look upon me as if in a mirror), she once again
relates her son's duties to God with her son's duty to her.
Interestingly, the categorization of Dhuoda's text as a speculum, which in her case aims to present her own
image rather than God's, consciously or uncousciously elevates
Dhuoda to the same status as God.
However, the image of Dhuoda
herself is also multiple.
Thus, the next question would be: How do we perceive this image of
herself? What identities are mirrored in this
herself? As mentioned before, Dhuoda clearly
states her position as a writer and a teacher from the very
beginning; however, at the same time, she also emphasizes her role
as a mother and her status as a woman. Her reflected image becomes
the accumulation of various identites. In her Liber
Manualis, Dhuoda continuously addresses her weakness and
unworthiness4, yet stresses that since she is William's mother, he
should read her handbook and follow her teachings. Her emphasis on
her identity as a mother can also be found in the many lines in
which she expresses her love and care for her son, such as when she
Fili, habebis doctores que te plura et ampliora
utilitatis doceant documenta, sed non aequali conditione, animo
ardentis in pectore, sicut ego genitrix tua, fili
(My son, my firstborn son—you will have other teachers to
present you with works of fuller and richer usefulness, but not
anyone like me, your mother, whose heart burns on your behalf.)
It is through her nature as a mother that she raises the value of
her text. However, this
authority of motherhood is not
Review Article: Parents and Children in the Early
Middle Ages, Pauline Stafford observes that Dhuoda's conception
of motherhood owes to both Carolingian construction and biological
determination and how
childhood and parenting are a crux where
biology and construction meet (271). While Dhuoda's intention
for writing the handbook may have sprung from natural maternal love,
in order to build up the authority of her teachings, she has had to
nutured images for herself. As Claussen
Dhuoda, by her own reading and personal interpretation
of the two specific texts—the Bible and the Rule of St. Benedict [. . .]
sheds surprising new light both on her own authorial voice and her
personal claims to authority (788). In fact, the only way she
can nurture her son is through the written text. She longs for her
son, but being separated from him, the only way she can talk to him
is through a text. Her text is also the only way for her son to see
mirror of his mother. It is through written words that
Dhuoda constructs a represented image that serves to create a
literal bond between her and her son. She nurtures William through
the reflected mirror image of herself.
Her emphasis on her position as a mother may also be due to
self–protection. Considering her critical political situation as the
deserted wife of a suspect betrayer of the emperor, Dhuoda's
constant addressing of her son may also be her way of securing the
safety of her text and her family. Her book is the only words of a
mother to her son. Of course, if one were to look more closely into
her text, it becomes evident that her expectations for her book
surpass the familial teachings of a mother to a son. Near the end of
her text, Dhuoda expresses the hope for other readers
qui legerit umquam, uerba subtus secuntur meditetur ipse,
et me, iam quasi intus reclusam, Deo commendet soluendam
(X.6 10–12) (who may someday read the handbook you now peruse, may he too ponder
the words that follow here so that he may commend me to God's
salvation as if I were buried beneath these words). She
also writes in her epitaph that,
Ne hine pertranseat
quis, usque dum legat/Coniuro omnes ut orent, ita dicentes:/ Requiem
illi tribue, Alme (X.6 33–35) (Let no one walk away without reading this./
I beseech all that they pray, saying:/Give her peace, gentle Father).
family handbook may be the cover of her
text, her teachings carry the hopes of transcending the limitations
of a mother's manual for her son to become a Liber
Manualis for the public. In fact, it is not
just her text or her teachings that she wishes others to find value
in, but also her
person as in the above quote in which she
asks her readers to pray for her.
The construction of her nurturing method can be perceived both in
her creation of role models and her intermixing of different
identities. The identities of mother, God, Carolingian woman, and
writer are all merely reflected images of Dhuoda herself, which
represent parts of her, but cannot be said to be who she is. In
other words, her Liber Manualis becomes ultimately a text of
herself, a mirror of herself that she wishes to present to her son
and to her possible readers. The multiple mirror images used within
the mirror image of the text create this proliferation of mirror
images that destabilize the possibility to read the teachings of
this text as only a reflection of a single image. She must teach
through textual images, and through the textual images she teaches
her son about herself. Since the textual images cannot simply be
said to represent her
nature, they rather display the
multiplicity and potential of one's own
refuses any literal or social definition. When one relates this
conception to Dhuoda's description that
coeperis considerare quis, quantus aut quails sit, et non poteris
comprehendere uel inuenire cooperatorem similem illi, scies per
omnia quia hoc est Deus (I.5 55–58) (When you begin to consider who the
Lord is, how great, and of what character, and when you then cannot
comprehend him or find any help such as he, then you will truly know
that he is God), this passage becomes another
interesting link between God and herself. Dhuoda nurtures through
constructed images, and through this constructed nurturing process,
Dhuoda presents the potential of her nature as an ontological
subject that cannot be reduced to the mere definitions of social
categorizations. She is her text, reflected and concealed.
Roman de Silence: Multiplicity of Voices
In both the Liber Manualis and the Roman de
Silence, there prevails a multiplicity of
Dhuoda's text might not have any characters, yet she creates the
image of different roles in her Handbook that speak through
reflections and reflect through speeches. Critics have also debated
over the priority of
voices within Roman de Silence.
Who is the ultimate teacher? The narrator or the characters? In
other words, is the poem feminist or anti–feminist? In this section
of my discussion, I will begin with the multiple mirror images used
within the text to build up my argument on why the narrator's final
comment and the final scene may be regarded as ironical or read from
an anti–feminist point of view. I will not necessarily be arguing
that the text
should be read as a feminist work (regardless
of whether critics analize the poem from a more literal or
contextual perspective), but rather that the text
can be read as a
feminist work. Another way of looking at this argument is the
realization of the text's
indeterminacy. In other words,
rather than saying that the Roman de Silence
can be read as a feminist work, the better way to perceive
my argument would be to acknowledge the fact that the work cannot be
interpreted from the
sole perspective of feminist or
anti–feminist. Who is the teacher? The story, the narrator, or the
stories within the story? There is no absolute answer, only
reflections of what might be the answer.
On the part of the author's use of mirror images in the text,
there are mainly four examples I would like to discuss: 1) Eufeme
and Eufemie, 2) the two or three pairs of lovers/marriages
(Evan–Eufeme, Cador–Eufemie, Evan–Silence), 3) Nature and
Nurture/Reason, and, 4) the Crossdressers (Silence, nun, and
Merlin). The first two categories address the illusory resemblance
between mirrored images; the third section exemplifies images of
reflected oppositions, while the last group demonstrates the gap
between reflected images and the actual subject itself. Starting
from the first pair of mirrored images, Eufeme and Eufemie, it is
quite apparent that the similarity of their names encourages readers
to draw a link between these two female characters. In the poem,
Eufeme is the daughter of King Evan's war opponent, King Begon. Evan
accepts King Begon's offering of his daughter's hand in marriage as
a token of peace between the two realms. Eufeme starts out as the
beautiful, silent bride from a foreign land, and ends up as the evil
adulteress, torn apart by horses through brutal corporal punishment.
On the other hand, her
silent parallel, Eufemie, first
appears in the poem as the most perfect woman who embodies the
greatest virtues of beauty, wealth, and knowledge. The narrator not
only describes her as,
Fille ert Renalt de
N'a feme el regne que li valle.
Li cuens n'avoit
enfant que li:
Tols ses païs en abeli,
Qu'el mont n'avoit plus
[. . .]
Des. Vii. Ars ert moult bien aprise
(The daughter of Renald of Cornwall.
Not a woman in the realm
was her equal
She was the count's only child,
glory of his estates,
the most beautiful girl in the
[. . .]
She was well-versed in the seven
but also says,
El païs n'a si sage mie (594) (she was
the wisest doctor in the land). Eufemie starts out as this
strong female character, who after entering her marriage, suddenly
loses her importance and her say in the latter part of the
narrative. What might be Heldris de Cornuälle's purpose in naming
two characters so similarly? According to the etymology of the two
names, they both derive from the Greek euphemos,
which means auspicious or kind speech. Should one then understand
this device as denoting the inherent alliance between the two, or
should one interpret their names literally, which would mean that
natures of the two women are in fact different from
seem like. If the latter instance is the case,
then does the uncovering of their
nature lead to the
recognition of the two characters as joined parallels or mirrored
On the surface, despite both women being beautiful and wealthy,
the virtues of Eufeme and Eufemie appear to be contraries. On the
aspect of love, while Heldris significantly does not mention
Eufeme's feelings towards her new lord and husband, he spends a
decent portion of lines elaborating on the significance of Eufemie's
love relation. Also, while Eufeme's adulterous confessions lead to
treacherous acts, Eufemie's love agonies reflect merits of
genuineness and loyalty. Both suffer tortures of love, yet Eufeme's
love is extremely demanding and Eufemie's is more self–reflective.
For Eufemie, love comes on her forcefully and irresistibly. Forceful
in the sense that she cannot reject this love, and irresistible as
the double connotation of her inability to entirely repress the love
and her desire to remain
lovesick. For Eufemie, love is the
illness that pains and attracts at the same time. To be in love is
also to surrender oneself to one's lover. During her torments of
love, Eufemie says,
Car s'il me violt, avoir de me
U se cho non, ne li estuet.
E! Dex! come a chi grant
S'il violt, n'arai ja part en lui
Et il m'a voir, sans
(If he wants me, he can have me,
and if not, he doesn't have
God, what an aweful situation!
If it's his wish, I'll have
no part of him,
but he can, if he wants, take all of
She is in the hands of her lover. Love is also accompanied by
fear—the fear that one's love will not be returned. In the Roman de Silence, Eufemie is described as worrying over
Ele desire qu'il seüst
Qu'ele alter amie que lui
Mais qu'en lit ant de cuer n'a mie
Que die a lui
qu'ele est s'amie.
Dirai jo don't qu'ele ait delit
Quant el ne
fait, grant ne petit,
De quanque li siens cuers desire,
lui amer sans ozer dire? (763–70)
(She desires him to know
that she would have no other lover
but she doesn't have the courage
to tell him she's in
love with him.
Shall I say that she is happy,
when she does
with regard to her heart's desire
love him and not dare to say so?)
Love is the simultaneous experience of fearful suffering and
As for Eufeme, the narrator uses the Tristan and Isolde tale as a
metaphor for the queen's suffering for Silence, saying,
Car onques Tristrans por Izelt,
Ne dame Izeuls por dant
N'ot tele angoisse ne ahan
Com eult Eufeme la
Por le valet ki ert meschine (3700–04)
(Tristan never suffered
such anguished yearnings for
nor Lady Isolde for Lord Tristan
as did Quene
for this young man who was a girl)
In this case, however, although Eufeme may also suffer from the
torments of love, instead of confessing her irresistible love for
Silence she rather refers to love as an act of exchange. She
Baisiés me, ne soiés hontels!/Por .i. baisier vos
donrai .ii./Et ne vos avers si riche ange? (3759–62) (I'll give you two kisses for one./Don't you think that's an
amazing/rate of exchange?). When Silence courteously rejects Eufeme, Eufeme goes on to
reprimand Silence by exclaiming:
Eut horn de vostre parage onques,/Tant
fust de pris, ensi grant don?/Mon cors vos soinse tolt a
bandon! (3782–84) (Was any man of your lineage,/however exalted, ever offered
such a glorious gift?/I'm offering you my body in complete
surrender). Despite also surrendering herself to love, it is her body that
she surrenders and not her heart.
Perhaps one might take the contrast between Eufemie and Eufeme as
the comparison between true love and false love, or spiritual love
and sexual love. However, Eufeme's proposal of love as a way of
exchange that involves hierachy systems, strongly echoes her own
political marriage to King Evan. In the article
Cherchez Eufeme: The Evil Queen in Roman de Silence, Katie Keene raises the question
of whether the origin of Eufeme's malevolence was always present but
hidden or learned. In other words, is it a question of nature or of
nurture? Keene argues that,
Heldris describes Eufeme in terms
that imitate, but do not mirror the literary tradition of romantic
adulterous queens. By providing tantalizing clues in terms of what
is revealed and what remains concealed, the narrator alerts the
audience to the possibility of Eufem's devious nature (7).
Going back to the original discussion on the meaning of the two
names, are the characters similar or different on the aspect of
nature and nurture? The exploration into this question suggests that
there are only possible interpretations and no definite answers.
Heldris evidently encourages readers to compare but does not provide
enough information for the comparisons, which come to show how the
compared objects are presented as reflected images that refuse our
access to their ontological or whole nature. In this sense, the use
of the Greek word euphemos might perhaps have the
more general purpose of first implying the relationship between the
signifier and the signified, or nature and nurture, before seeking
to deconstruct the direct link between the two. Just as when Erin
Labbie talks about how the
absence of the name
Silence serves to represent the ontological self that
refuses to be reduced to constructed categorizations, the mirrored
images of Eufeme and Eufemie placed to face each other create the
infinite proliferation of mirror reflections which in turn also
denies readers direct access to the characters' ontological selves.
By linking together the two women characters through their similar
names, the result appears not so much the finding of answers, but
the realization of questions.
In the second example of mirrors—the lovers—the text includes three marriages, but only one couple is described as having first been in love before entering their matrimonial state, and even this pair of lovers marries under a political arrangement. The name connection between Eufeme and Eufemie not only suggests the indicated mirroring effect of the two characters but also the comparability of their marriages. On first glance, the two couples seem to provide the contrast between marriage with love and without love—Eufeme is married to King Evan as a promise of peace truce between the two countries while Eufemie and Cador had already become devoted lovers before exchanging their marriage vows. Although Evan states that
Se jo a feme puis avoir;
Il n'a el mont sic heir avoir,
Que jot ant aim et tant desir
Par us d'eglise od li gesir.
Piece a l'amors de li me poinst (181-86)
(If I can have this woman to wife,
it is unclear whether his
for there is no greater treasure on earth;
I want and desire above all
to wed her and bed her properly.
I have suffered long for love of her)
amors are directed towards Eufeme herself or what she represents, since his confessions of love only come after his counselors proposed the idea of political marriage between the two. Not only is there no in–depth depiction of his long–suffered love for Eufeme, but the actual object of his yearnings is also ambiguous. As for Eufeme, the lack of love on her side is quite evident from her initial meeting with Evan, in which the narrator describes how
son cue rot un poi amer (245) (her heart was a little bitter). Her later seductions of Silence and the uncovering of her transvestite lover all come to show the absence of loyal love in her relationship with Evan.
The emptiness of love in Eufeme and Evan's marriage appears to be quite the opposite of Eufemie and Cador's intense love and devotion to each other. A significant portion of the early part of the poem is dedicated to the elaboration on the sufferings of Eufemie and Cador. They not only suffer pain from the arrows of love, but also from the dilemma of whether to confess and pursue their love or not. Like other medieval works, the text plays on the indecipherability between physical illness and mental illness, pleasure and pain, and cure and cause. Cador may have been cured by Eufemie of his dragon wound, but he also becomes worse due to his passions for Eufemie, which results in the experience of both happiness and bitterness. Interior sufferings become reflected through exterior symptoms. Cador addresses his confusion to Eufemie by saying,
Biele, j'ai calt et froit ensanble.
Ne pois garir, si com moi samble;
Si grans cals ne puet avoir valor
Ki puisse vaintre ma calor.
Andedoi sunt ivel en force;
Li uns enviers l'altre s'esforce,
Ne puet l'uns l'altre sormonter.
Oïstres vos ainc mais conter
De calt, de froit, qui sunt contrarie,
Que en un cors peü scent faire?
S'en moi peüst valoir Nature,
Ja coir si estrange aventure
A mon las cors n'en avenist;
L'uns viers l'altre ne se tenist.
Mais jo sui tols desnaturés
Et si cuic ester enfaiturés.
Jo voel mangier et sin e puis;
tant de nature en moi ne truis
Que puissce mon mangier joïr,
Ne men las cors avoec norir. (1015-36)
(Dearest, I am hot and cold at once.
In this passage, Cador points to the co–existence of oppositional forces and also the connection/ disconnection between one's heart with one's physical body, between one's nature and one's image. Nature and Body exist individually but also affect each other, and both forces are equally strong. Here Cador acknowledges the disconnection between the two and expresses his desire for their unification. It is not only the wish to become whole again, but also the understanding of how one can only become whole again after uniting with one's loved one. In addition, both Eufemie and Cador refuse to take each other by political means and agree to elope if necessary. For the two, love is irresistible attraction and faithful devotion. In terms of love, Eufemie and Cador indeed appear to be quite the opposite of Eufeme and Evan; however, their modes of marriage are in fact quite similar. The happy ending for Eufemie and Cador is only because their desires are coincidently the same as King Evan's resolution, which does not cover up the fact that Eufemie and Cador only got married because the king intends for them to do so. The two pairs of lovers serve as mirror reflections that present reversed semblance that are still of the same image. Just as when one looks into a mirror, we see our exact surface reflection reversed in distribution. This idea of
It seems to me I can't be cured.
There is no heat hot enough to conquer
the cold I feel, belle Eufemie.
There is no cold that has the strength
to overcome my heat.
Both are equal in strength;
one contends with the other;
neither can overcome the other.
Have you ever heard tell what the opposition of heat and cold
can do inside one body?
If nature could assert her strength in me,
this strange state of affairs
could not occur in my weary body;
the one would not struggle with the other.
But I am totally dis-natured;
I think I am bewitched.
I want to eat and yet I can't;
I can't find enough nature in me
to be able to enjoy my food,
not to speak of nourishing my weary body.)
reversal within the same appearance calls attention to the complexity of surface images that not only denies our access to the subject's true nature but also reveals our inability to differentiate between same and difference.
Why does Evan want Eufemie and Cador to marry? His concerns are not about love, but more so for the proposition of a match that is advantageous to political circumstances. He says,
Si estevroit castiëment
Al consel descovrir tel home
Ki lor seüst mostrer la some,
Die lor qu'il sunt d'un eäges les ivuelle,
[. . .]
Si lor donroie l'an .m. livres,
Car j'en seroie donc delivers:
Et la tiere de Cornuälle
Apriés la mort Renalt sans falle,
Ceste est sa fille, il est ses pere,
N'ont plus d'enfans, il ne la mere. (1266-1329)
(It would be a good thing
This arrangement would be beneficial to both families, for Eufemie would then be able to keep her family's inheritance and the King would gain from forming a familial alliance with his Cornish vassal through his nephew, Cador. On the issue of inheritance, Craig A. Berry proposes in his essay
if there were someone at this council
who could explain the advantages to them,
tell them that they are similar in age,
beauty and high lineage
[. . .]
to give them a thousand pounds a year
I would grant them this myself
and the territory of Cornwall
upon the death of Renald, without fail.
She is his daughter, he is her father;
she is her parents' only child.)
What Silence Desires: Female Inheritance and the Romance of Property that King Evan's ban of female inheritance is mainly based on his personal interests:
The actions of real thirteenth–century kings make clear why, in the Romance de Silence, King Evan does not attempt to choose one daughter as heir. If he were to partition the land equally as Chrétien's King Arthur does, Evan would lose direct control over the younger sister's portion since she (or her husband) would owe feudal service not to the king but to the older sister. On the other hand, allowing the dispute to proceed to judicial combat also has risks; a general outbreak of violence after the two counts are killed is only narrowly avoided (307-8). By entirely doing away with women's ability to inherit, King Evan appears to be dodging alternatives that are from his point of view equally unattractive. (203)
In fact, Evan even usurps the authority of Eufemie's father by allowing Eufemie to choose her own husband. As Sharon Kinoshita writes,
Evan in effect affirms that patrimonies are transmitted not through the laws of inheritance but by royal decree (401). It becomes only natural that in the denouement of the poem, the barren queen is replaced by the best knight of the kingdom, who despite having achieved the highest status for women of her birth still ends up in a political marriage. In this sense, is the marriage between Silence and Evan an identical duplication of Eufeme and Evan's? While the text makes clear that Eufeme does not love Evan, it does not, however, give information about Silence's feelings towards her King. Like her name, Silence remains silent. Her silence rejects any attribution of her intentions. While Eufemie and Cador and Eufeme and Evan present the
reversal within the same image, Silence and Evan's relationship also create the same political image as the former two pairs of marriages, but does not serve as a contrast reflection of either pair. How do we compare the three mirror images that look alike but are not the same? Silence's
absence becomes the potential for infinity. There are no answers, only possibilities.
Coming to the third set of mirror images—Nature and Nurture—the text exemplifies their oppositional yet attached relationship in their debates over who should be superior in regard to Silence's behavior. After Nature finds out that Silence has been brought up as a boy, she instructs Silence to remove her fake disguise by rejecting outdoor actives such as jousting, hunting, and shooting arrows to take up indoor activities such as sewing. The assertion that Silence's return to femininity is to
Va en la camber a la costure (2528) (Go to a chamber and learn to sew) only comes to show how Nature's teachings are based on nurtured gender stereotypes. Since
natural, it becomes impossible to teach someone to retrieve their nature, since the nature of a person is never lost, only covered. Thus, Nature's teachings can in reality only be based on traits of Nurture. In other words, Nature's teachings are in fact attempts to
nurture Silence. From another perspective, this idea also points to the recognition that Nurture can only nurture when there is a
nature to cover up. Nurture needs the substance of Nature in order to teach, and Nature can only teach through the mirror of Nurture. In the end when Nature finally gets to return Silence back into the image of a woman, the superficiality of the process indicates the unnaturalness of the supposedly naturalizing procedure. In the poem, Nature is said to remove
Tolt quanque ot sor le cors de malle./ Ainc n'I lassa nes point de halle:/ Remariä lués en con vis/ Assisement le roze al lis (6674–76) (every trace / of anything that being a man had left there./ She removed all traces of sunburn:/ rose and lily were once again/ joined in conjugal harmony on her face). The removal of nurtured
manliness does not unveil Silence's
nature but only puts on her another nurtured
The involvement of Reason in the former Nature-Nurture debate only further emphasizes how Silence's decisions are ultimately determined by social concerns, which again points to the constructedness of gender performances. After listening to Reason's speech, Silence
voit que moils valt li us d'ome/ Que l'us de feme, c'est la some (2637–38) (saw, in short, that a man's life/ was much better than that of a women) and says,
Ne voel perdre ma grant honor,
Ne la voel cangier a menor,
Ne voel mon pere desmentir,
Ainz me doinst Dex la mart sentir.
Por quanque puet faire Nature
Ja n'en ferai descoverture (2651–56)
(I don't want to lose my high position;
I don't want to exchange it for a lesser,
and I don't want to prove my father a liar
I would rather have God strike me dead!
Whatever nature may do,
I will never betray the secret!)
In the poem, Silence has no problem carrying out the role of men; in fact, she actually performs this role better than any other man in the entire kingdom. This not only undermines the determination of sex categorizations but also blurs the line separating nature and nurture. As Judith Butler suggests,
this construct called 'sex' is as culturally constructed as gender [. . .] the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all (136). The text's proposed opposition between Nature and Nurture results in presenting the interdependency of the two and also how both can only describe and present themselves, ie., their
nature, through mirror images that can only be viewed as constructed reflections rather than original substances.
The unstable relationship between Nature and Nurture brings my discussion to the last set of mirror images I would like to examine—the crossdressers. How does one determine a person's identity? Does one base judgments on nature or nurture? In Roman de Silence, crossdressing involves the trespassing of primarily three categories—gender, class, and man/beast. For the first aspect, there are the two examples of Silence dressed as a boy and Eufeme's lover dressed as a nun. Throughout the narrative, no one suspects their hidden sexual identities until Merlin reveals the secret near the end of the poem. The successfulness of the two transvestites demonstrate how easy it is for the two characters to transcend their sexual categorizations by putting on the cover of their opposite gender. This not only shows that sex does not necessarily need to have any direct connections with one's gender performance/choice but also that outsiders can only base their judgments on gender appearances. Silence chooses to remain a man for social reasons, and thus her identity as a man is what the society recognizes her as. Silence's final return to a woman is not so much society's anxiety over women who can perform men roles, but more so the concern for the necessity of placing Silence back into the norms of social gender categorizations by having her immediately put on feminine clothes and marry the king. As Robert L. A. Clark writes,
The transgressive figure of the transvestite allow us to see at one and the same time both the arbitrariness of these roles and also their necessity for the 'proper' functioning of society and culture (61). Although the outcome of Silence seems to suggest her inability to transcend socially constructed gender boundaries, if one were to interpret the text from the reader's onlooker perspective, the process and ending rather serve to remind us of not only the possibility in transcending social boundaries of sex and gender but also the illusive yet authoritative quality of social restrictions. It is the transcendence of the textual meaning over the contextual restrictions. Although the illusive ideology of society remains in the text, the illusive ideology itself has been broken down for the readers.
Silence crosses not only gender boundaries but also class categorizations as well. Just like Silence's sexual and gender identities are demonstrated by putting on the
cover of sexual or gender traits, her means of becoming part of the lower class is also easily done by simply putting on a fake disguise. During her apprenticeship as a minstrel, Silence remains unrecognized because
D'une herbe qu'ens el bos a prise/ Desconoist sa face et deguise./ Ki bien l'esgarde viers le chiere/ Bien sanble de povre riviere (2909–12) (first he stained and disguised his face/ with a herb he found in the woods./ Whoever looked at his complexion/ would certainly think him of low station). Silence's only way of later proving her inherited noble identity is by showing her birthmark to Cador. However, the identification of the birthmark as a
natural sign should not be readily taken to suggest that noble heritage is also based on a natural design. On the contrary, the constructiveness of the natural body portrayed in the text undermines the attribution of physical appearances to substances of true
nature. From this perspective, Clark's statement that
the Roman de Silence seeks to assure its audience that in a world of changing and conflicting custom, there will always be one unchanging mark of distinction, that of noble birth, for Silence's nobility is innate, the work of Nature, not Nurture becomes misleading not only because heritage is in fact a socially constructed system but also because the text shows how our perceptions of Nature can only be based on nurtured
covers of Nature rather than the ontological Nature itself (61).
While the crossdressers of gender and class in the text seem to emphasize the constructedness of nurtured appearances and the gap between social performances and natural realities, the crossdresser Merlin appears to destabilize the basic existence of a foundational
nature, once again pointing to the nurtured presentation of all
nature. Silence may dress as a man and wear the make-up of a lower-class citizen, nevertheless the narrator clearly states Silence's
nature as a female and a member of the nobility. It is through the understanding of her
nature that we see how she
nurtures. Although my former discussions have shown the constructiveness of this
nature, there is still at least a mirror of
nature that one can build one's judgment on. For Merlin, the reflections of his
nature are multiplied. Who is Merlin? Is he the old man who sees through Silence's disguise as a minstrel? Is he the wise sage who prophesies the outcome of the characters? Or is he the beast that roams the forest and lives on animalistic instincts? Readers only recognize his various identities but lack access to what his actual
nature might be. Ironically, despite being the person who unveils other people's identities in the end, the appearance of Merlin actually raises more questions than he answers. Not only can
nature only display itself through nurtured images, but for Merlin, the subject of nature itself is presented as an ontological substance that refuses categorization and definition.
In the Roman de Silence, just as characters have multiple identities, multiple
voices are heard to speak. The author's seemingly conscious use of mirrored parallels/oppositions comes to show how the teachings of the text come not only from the narrator but also from the narrated story itself. Critics who have accused the text as anti–feminist have centered their evidence on the ending of Silence and the remarks and conclusion of the narrator. While I have already pointed out the alternative way of reading Silence's marriage as a conscious or ironic reminder of the superficiality yet determinacy of social constructions, the final remarks of the narrator can be taken as yet another one of his mirror images that speaks but cannot conclude. This understanding breaks down the authority of the narrator's final statement that
Car feme a menor oquoison,
Por que ele ait le liu ne l'aise,
De l'estre bone que malvaise,
S'ele oeuvre bien contre nature
[. . .]
Ne s'en doit irier bone fame.
Ne sor li prendre altrui blasme,
Mais efforcier plus de bien faire. (6688–701)
(a woman has less motivation,
By demonstrating how nurture is taught through mirror images whose very nature is to reflect and conceal at the same time, the act of the narrator's
provided that she even has the choice,
to be good than to be bad.
Doing the right thing comes unnaturally to her
[. . .]
A good woman should neither take offense
nor blame herself for some else's faults,
but simply strive all the harder to do what is right.)
nurture in the end becomes itself another mirror image that mirrors the story, multiplying the number of images reflected. The proliferation of mirror images teaches and questions its very own teachings at the same time. What is being taught? The story continues.
From the two texts, we may see how both authors
nurture through multiple mirror images that reflect, conceal, and proliferate at the same time. The question of
nurture becomes not so much the question of whether a woman can teach a man how to become a man or whether a man can teach a woman how to become a woman, due to the
nurture being only possible through constructive and reflective image presentations. This further shows how the nature/self of a text can never be fully learned. Although both texts demonstrate the post–modern view of a text's indeterminacy and the legitimacy of multiple interpretations, the authors' conscious adaptation of the
mirror concept comes to present how the texts
are meant to go beyond surface meanings. Roland Barthes writes that,
As soon as a fact is narrated no longer with a view to acting directly on reality but transitively, that is to say, finally outside of any function other than that of the very practice of the symbol itself, this disconnection occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters into this own death, writing begins. (114)
While Roman de Silence could be read as an example that exemplifies Barthes' claim more directly, Duoda's Liber Manualis in fact demonstrates its
indeterminacy through the text's re–creation of the author's birth. It is from the postmodern idea of the author's death that Duoda's
ontological self shines forth. Who is the teacher and what is being taught? In the case of Liber Manualis and Roman de Silence, the answer to the question would be: The text is the teacher that teaches the very nature of itself.
For further information, see Marie Anne Mayeski's book Dhuoda: Ninth Century Mother and Theologian, Karen Cherewatuk's essay |
Speculum Matris: Duoda's Manual, and M. A. Claussen's article
Fathers of Power and Mothers of Authority: Dhuoda and the Liber manualis.
Cum quibus et sine quibus uiuere non possumus (VII.1. 15–16) (With them we live, and without them we cannot live.)
See Glenn W. Olsen's |
One Heart and One Soul (Acts 4:32 and 34) in Dhuoda's Manual.
Some examples may be when Dhuoda refers to herself as being |
vilis secundum parvitatem et capacitatem sensus intelligentiae meae (I. 6 31-32) (worthless in the smallness and the shallowness of my understanding) and having
in fragili sensu, interdignas vivens indigne (
Prologue 5–6) (weakness of mind, unworthy as I am among worthy women).
Death of an Author. Modern Literary Theory: A Reader. Eds. Philip
Rice and Patricia Waugh. London: Edward Arnold, 1989. 114–18.
Berry, Craig A.
What Silence Desires: Female Inheritance and the Romance of Property
Translating Desire in Medieval and Early Modern
in the Roman de Silence.
Literature. Eds. Craig A. Berry and Heather Richardson Hayton. Tempe, Arizona:
Arizona Board of Regents, 2005.
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York:
Speculum Matris: Duoda's Manual. Florilegium 10 (1988–91):
Clark, Robert L.A.
Queering Gender and Naturalizing Class in the Roman de Silence.
Arthuriana 12.1 (2002): 50–63.
Claussen, M. A.
Fathers of Power and Mothers of Authority: Dhuoda and the Liber
French Historical Studies 19.3 (1996): 285–309.
de Cornuälle, Heldris. Silence: A Thirteenth-Century French Romance. Trans and Ed.
Sarah Roche–Mahdi. East Lansing: Michigan State UP, 1999.
Dhuoda. Handbook for William: A Carolingian Woman's Counsel for Her Son. Trans. Carol
Washington, D. C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1991.
–––. Le Manuel de Dhuoda. Trans and Ed. Edouard Bondurand. Paris: Picard, 1887.
'Cherchez Eufeme': The Evil Queen in Le Roman de Silence. Arthuriana
14.3 (2004): 3–22.
Heldris de Cornuälle's Roman de Silence and the Feudal Politics of
PMLA 110.3 (1995): 397–409.
Labbie, Erin F.
The Specular Image of the Gender–Neutral Name: Naming Silence in Le
Arthuriana 7.2 (1997): 63–76.
Roman de Silence.
Mayeski, Marie Anne. Dhuoda: Ninth Century Mother and Theologian. Scranton: U. of
Scranton Press, 1995.
Review article: Parents and Children in the Early Middle Ages. Early
Medieval Europe 10.2 (2001): 257–71.
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