Nahrain Al-Mousawi

Nathan Cranford

Lony Haley-Nelson

Janice Mabry

Leeore Schnairsohn

Karen Yang


The Nature of Nurture: Reflected Postmodernism in Dhuoda's Liber Manualis and Heldris de Cornuälle's Roman de Silence

Karen Yang
Indiana University

From the postmodern view, texts no longer represent absolute revelations of the author's intentions.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 through its 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 indeterminacy sustains its identity and potential through the very constructiveness of its multiple interpretations and images.


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 into the Speculum Genre. In defining this term, Karen Cherewatuk writes,

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 textus 7–12)

(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 say,
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 7–10)

(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 to 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, according to 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 quod 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 Dhuoda herself? What identities are mirrored in this reflection of 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 writes,

Fili, habebis doctores que te plura et ampliora utilitatis doceant documenta, sed non aequali conditione, animo ardentis in pectore, sicut ego genitrix tua, fili primogenite. (I.720–23)
(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 enough. In 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 create other nutured images for herself. As Claussen writes, 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 the 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). While 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 nature, which refuses any literal or social definition. When one relates this conception to Dhuoda's description that Nam, cum 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 voices. 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 Cornauälle.
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 bele mie
[. . .]
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,
the crowning glory of his estates,
the most beautiful girl in the world,
[. . .]
She was well-versed in the seven arts)

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 the natures of the two women are in fact different from what they 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 opposites?

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 puet,
U se cho non, ne li estuet.
E! Dex! come a chi grant anui!
S'il violt, n'arai ja part en lui
Et il m'a voir, sans parçonier (807–11)
(If he wants me, he can have me,
and if not, he doesn't have to.
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 me)

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 how,

Ele desire qu'il seüst
Qu'ele alter amie que lui n'eüst:
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,
Fors lui amer sans ozer dire? (763–70)
(She desires him to know
that she would have no other lover but him,
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 absolutely nothing
with regard to her heart's desire
except love him and not dare to say so?)

Love is the simultaneous experience of fearful suffering and pleasurable pain.

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 Tristan
N'ot tele angoisse ne ahan
Com eult Eufeme la roïne
Por le valet ki ert meschine (3700–04)
(Tristan never suffered
such anguished yearnings for Isolde
nor Lady Isolde for Lord Tristan
as did Quene Eufeme
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 says: 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,
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)
it is unclear whether his desir and 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.
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.)
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 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
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.)
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 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 nature is 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 womanness image.

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,
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.)
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 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 nature of 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.


1 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.
2 Cum quibus et sine quibus uiuere non possumus (VII.1. 15–16) (With them we live, and without them we cannot live.)
3 See Glenn W. Olsen's One Heart and One Soul (Acts 4:32 and 34) in Dhuoda's Manual.
4 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).

Works Cited

Barthes, Roland. 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
        in the Roman de Silence.
Translating Desire in Medieval and Early Modern
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:
        Routledge, 1990.

Cherewatuk, Karen. 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.

Keene, Katie. 'Cherchez Eufeme': The Evil Queen in Le Roman de Silence. Arthuriana
        14.3 (2004): 3–22.

Kinoshita, Sharon. 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
        Roman de Silence
Arthuriana 7.2 (1997): 63–76.

Mayeski, Marie Anne. Dhuoda: Ninth Century Mother and Theologian. Scranton: U. of
        Scranton Press, 1995.

Stafford, Pauline. Review article: Parents and Children in the Early Middle Ages. Early
        Medieval Europe
10.2 (2001): 257–71.

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