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*looks over all the half-finished reviews of novels, gives up temporarily*

[Farenheit 451, Till We Have Faces, Spindle's End, Freakonomics, The Floating Islands]

I finished reading a book of fabliaux today!

In case you've never heard of them, they're "short stories" told in the high Middle Ages--most of them are dated to the 12th to 14th centuries--that are generally extremely bawdy, satirical and humorous works about ordinary people. They're not really fables; most of them don't have morales to impart at all. No one is really immune to criticism, but in particular social strife (the cheating wife and/or husband, the deconstruction of the courtly ideals) and priests especially are made fun of. Despite the rather misogynist vein running through the tales, there's a certain gleeful support for the wife when she schemes to hide her infidelity or gluttony, like in The Partridges, where she plays off her lover (the priest) and her husband, to hide the fact she's eaten their partridges already. Some of the jongleurs like the author of The Widow clearly have an axe to grind (Gautier de Leu), but other tales incorporate tricksters (like the peasant who was mistaken as a doctor, and 'cured' others by threatening to kill the sickest, whereupon all the sick men left) as well as authority figures like Aristotle (his depiction is not exactly flattering.)

Some of the fabliaux are prefaced with the teller's notes, like Beranger Longbottom. Its author, Garin, says that he's made up and told many fabliaux but this will be his last one, and haven't you heard it? No? Then he'll tell you right now, don't worry. Other authors claim that their stories are truthful. Henri d'Andeli lashes back at the obscenity of the genre, saying "Nor do I...wish to be the inventor of anything that smacks of baseness, but I will make my tales after the true originals". Despite these introductions, authorial intrusion is kept to a minimum; it's really the plots that are important, and the characters and settings are often archetypical. (Can you have archetypical settings? Well, they are ordinary--the peasant in field or his house, the miller in his lodging, etc.) Interestingly the poor are still looked upon favourably (the student who had to leave Paris because he couldn't afford to stay, and the two friends who are penniless are clearly sympathetic), but men and women in power are frequently satirized--the lady of the house, the priest, the lord of the house.

The edition I have1 is translated and presented mostly in prose form, except for The Knight Who Conjured Voices. Because of this barrier--I don't read Old French, unfortunately!--I can't comment about the actual writing, although the afterword (an afterword, instead of a loooong introduction! Amazing!) does discuss language.

I think if you are interested in secular works of medieval France, or like short tales of trickery and deceit and don't mind crudeness, you'll like these! But I am not joking when I say they really don't beat round the bush. On the other hand, if you like bawdy tales that make fun of everyone, these are excellent.

1Hellman, Robert and Richard O'Gorman, eds. Fabliaux: Ribald Tales from the Old French. Trans Robert Hellman and Richard O'Gorman. New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell Company, 1965. Print.

Crosspost: http://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/128596.html.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 5th, 2013 07:59 pm (UTC)
Are those stories like the Decameron for Italy?

And ooh loved "Spindle's End" and Fahrenheit 451. I am also shit at writing book reviews though, so I feel you there! ;)
May. 5th, 2013 09:03 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I think a lot of them had similarities/fed into the Decameron (I read all the little blurbs after the fabliaux but there are so many >.>.)

I am kinda >:( about Spindle's End's ending, but I looooooved the worldbuilding. Like if someone wrote more in the vein of Foggy Bottom and the magic of Spindle's End, I would eat it all up.

I keep getting halfway and then stopping, ahahaha. I'll get there eventually...I think.
May. 5th, 2013 09:07 pm (UTC)
Lol, I can't even remember what happened at the end of Spinners' End, what was it that upset you? :s. And what was Foggy Bottom?! (To me that is area of my city where I went to grad school, so funny to hear you drop it in a different context! :p)
May. 5th, 2013 09:18 pm (UTC)
It was mostly that Peony pretends to be Rosie and deceives everyone. This got my goat because in the beginning there's a big point made about the queen being really unhappy and sad after losing Rosie, and Katriona even expending energy (inadvertently) to visit the queen and tell her that her daughter's doing well. >:(

Also there was the whole ??? over what happened with Pernicia. There wasn't a lot of metaphor in the beginning but I don't really get what happened near the end....

Wait, you know a place called Foggy Bottom? In Spindle's End that's the village where Rosie grows up (it's all the way down in the country, apparently rather foggy--the messenger that first announces the birth of the princess is rather aggravated by that, I think.) I love the name though.

Ahhh :D Why is your Foggy Bottom called that? (And is it official? Please say it is. :D)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )



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