Living Landscape: Attitudes Toward the Environment in French Medieval Literature
Snider, Katherine Allene
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This dissertation demonstrates the material grounding of twelfth and thirteenth century French texts by using environmental history and archaeology in conjunction with close readings. The title, “Living Landscape,” attempts to capture the physical and symbolic imbrication of humans, animals, plants, topographies, and objects in these texts, and each chapter addresses one or more of these enmeshed configurations. The first seeks to recognize the life and agency particular to the non-human environment, and the way in which the “inanimate” can nonetheless act on the human characters in the Chanson de Roland and the Roman d’Alexandre via physical manifestations. The second chapter focuses on the way in which humans live and interact with the material world around them, particularly how the non-human nodes in the network can be negatively impacted by human misbehavior, particularly in the form of physical and moral pollution in French grail romances from the Conte du Graal to the Queste del Saint Graal. The third chapter has as its subject how the historical, cultural and material conditions of one’s surroundings can impact relations to objects, based on the geo-political situation which determines the familiarity of automata, hydraulic, and fabric technologies Floire et Blanchefleur, the Voyage de Charlemagne, and De Planctu Naturae. I am not claiming that one can glean “facts” about medieval “reality” from medieval literature; rather, that the inclusion and manipulation of said “facts” can shed light on the interpretation of the text itself. In other words, here are two questions to which this project attempts to respond: what is the degree of faithfulness of depictions of geography, pollution or technology to contemporary realities or knowledge levels, and what do any alterations tell us?