I enjoyed this week’s reading, particularly Bisclavret. I always enjoy when we read the medieval literary texts because I get a chance to test out OOO.
I was hooked as early as line five in Bisclavret. As soon as I read the “old[en] days” (5) description of a werewolf I thought, “Ok! Here we go!” (5-14). In addition to my modern notion of a werewolf I am now equipped with the knowledge that the medieval werewolf as an object is just as gruesome, if not worse. Seems as if Bisclavret is pretty limited in his range of actions, huh? Eating men, unleashing fury, and hanging out in the depths of the forest. But not so fast! After Bisclavret’s wife has her new knight hide Bisclavret’s clothing (120-6) causing Bisclavret to be stuck as a werewolf the audience learns that this werewolf retains many of the same tendencies (16-20) he had as a nobleman (178-84). As it turns out, werewolves aren’t as static as our definition would like for them to be. Though the king and his men expected him to behave like a wild animal (151-7), this werewolf is noble and loved by many.
An artist on deviantart.com with the handle MelancholyTsuki created this drawing of Bisclavret.
Therefore, Bisclavret isn’t the “savage beast” (9). Rather, I would argue, that it is his “estimable wife, / one of lovely appearance” who is the beast (21-2) here because of what she does to Bisclavret. How interesting that while she looks worthy of respect and looks lovely she is the one who maliciously does harm while Bisclavret only attacks in vengeance. Just like with the werewolf, this is not how one would expect a pretty, noblewoman as object to act. I even hesitate to title this blogpost “The Noble Werewolf” because essentially I am discrediting the possibility of werewolves to be noble and am therefore labeling Bisclavret as an exceptional werewolf.
[Sidenote: And isn't it interesting that werewolves are actually human as well? Do you think it could be argued, then, that Bisclavret has such a wide range of agency (evoking both fear and loyalty) because he retains this human part? I think that what we have been studying would argue against that and claim that any thing possesses this possibility in their agentic reach. Bisclavret reminds me a lot of Dr. Frankenstein's creature--was anyone else reminded of the creature?]
As I am doing a closer reading of Jane Bennett for an essay proposal, the supposed activeness of ‘things’ that are not necessarily objects has led me to conclude that if the characters in Le Fresne valued all ‘things’ as much as “thing-power’ theory does, there would have never been any doubt that Fresne was a noble match for Gurun. In Le Fresne, her nobility is finally asserted by her mothers recognition of her identity through the presence of the ring and the fine fabric, both literal representations of wealth and noble blood. However, if Gurun and his lords placed equal value on behavior as they did on objects, Le Fresne would have proven herself from the start.
Her value is apparent: “There wasn’t one, big or little, who didn’t love her for her noble character, and honor her well.” (310-313). But instead of ultimately being associated with the nobility that she emanates she is instead associated with the literal place from where she came, a barren Ash tree. This is ironic because as we have seen, nobility does not always act nobly but those who act nobly should be valued and honored for that alone. Gurun should have placed more respect in the ‘thing’ that was her virtue, devotion, and respectability, not her lack of proof in the form of an object or title of being noble.
Our discussion of object-oriented approaches so far has led me to examine the use of objects in Marie de France’s Le Fresne.
First of all, Fresne cannot create an identity through her actions alone. Although her behavior might be considered noble, she does not have the necessary proof that would enable her to become the king’s wife. The ring and the cloth allow her to truly act out the “noble lady” role she was born to play. It’s ironic that her mother’s attempts to name her (in giving her the ring for instance) backfire and she is named after another object instead.
Her being named after the ash tree is crucially problematic, as it is the catalyst for her rejection in favor of her sister Codre. She is not seen as fit for the wife of a king, even though she exhibits all the “noble” qualities inherent to that station. Her identity, in this case, is wrapped up with the wrong object. However, it is through objects that she gains her rightful place in society.
Because they name her after the ash tree, Fresne does not initially get a chance to claim her identity. The name “ash” becomes the thing by which people judge her. It’s interesting to note that Gurun still loves her, even though he has no way of marrying her at that point. He’s the only one who seems to look beyond both the objects and the name, loving her despite her social status.
Her private actions were not sufficient enough to create a public identity. For that, she would need evidence more substantial than mere actions. Fresne’s mother accepts her only after she has seen the ring and the silk cloth. Fresne “…brought her the ring/she examined it carefully/She recognized it very well/and the silk cloth too” (443-446). This scene shows that even her mother (who gave her the objects in the first place) cannot simply acknowledge her nobility outright.
Furthermore, when she was a child at the abbey, they “…discovered the ring/and they saw her costly, beautiful clothes/from these they were certain that she was born of noble lineage” (207-210). While her refined speech and beauty would have marked her for nobility, it was ultimately the objects that convinced people of the truth.
What I found most interesting about the readings and discussion we had this time round, was the idea of nobility being some intrinsic aspect of the blood of those that possessed it. The idea that being a virtuous and kind person is a genetic inheritance seems to my modern ears to be a very strange idea. I can understand that the time frame which this is taking place in is very much in favor of a sort of predestined sense of self and a divine right based on royalty or the noble connection, but I’m having a hard time not trying to read the text with these sensibilities in mind.
For example, the idea that the mother in the story could abandon her child undercuts this whole idea of intrinsic nobility in my eyes. If nobility is something that is gifted to a person based on the purity of their birth, how could a woman from this class do a thing that is so unquestionably callous and frankly-at least to my eyes- evil? True she does eventually repent and try to make up for what she did in the end but does that remove the lingering doubt that the act cast on her in first place? While I think the story meant for this to be a return to grace for the mother, I personally can get out of my own modern interpretation long enough to really understand this. Redemption seems to be a very tricky thing and I think that to believe that it is based on some intrinsic nature puts too much stock in the royal stock.