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Lesbian Historic Motif Project: #30 – Bogin 1976 The Women Troubadours

Full citation: 

Bogin, Meg. 1976. The Women Troubadours. Paddington Press, Ltd., New York. ISBN 0-8467-0113-8

Having mentioned it in passing in yesterday's entry, I thought it was a good time to cover two publications discussing the troubairiz Bieiris de Romans. When one is determined to avoid interpretations of lesbian desire in literary works, it's easy enough to point to the formulaic nature of of many genres. Even the language of personal correspondence can be composed of stock phrases and meaningless formulas. (How many of the people you have addressed a letter to are genuinely "dear" to you?) While it is impossible to argue that all written compositions should be taken at absolute literal face value, it is important to consider how we interpret literalness versus literary style differently based on pre-existing assumptions. No one would argue that the formulaicness of troubadour love poetry negates the existence of romantic love and sexual desire between men and women (though they will argue that it can't be used to prove that desire between a particular man and woman). But when a woman writes in the genre of love poetry or love correspondence to another woman, you will often encounter circular arguments that because it can't reflect genuine desire, it must be formulaic, and therefore dose not represent genuine desire. And yet, there it stands for whatever interpretation one wants to put in it: a lyric presented in the voice of a woman, addressed to another woman, using the language and motifs of erotic and romantic desire.

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Within this study of the lives and works of the female poets of 12-13th c. Provence, we are concerned solely with one: Bieiris de Romans, whose surviving attributed work consists of a single canso (a genre of courtly love lyric) addressed to a woman named Maria (clearly not the Virgin Mary, in this context). Assuming the link remains stable, this should give you a google-books snippet view from Bogin with the text and translation.

Within the genre of troubadour song, while the romantic and erotic desire that is expressed is often something of a literary game (as well as being composed in the framework of the “courtly love” genre where unconsummated desire for an unobtainable beloved was a default trope), no one questions the sincere underlying emotions in all the cases where a poem is addressed between the sexes. Modern commentary on the work attributed to Bieiris, however, has attracted unique skepticism with scholars dismissing it as a mere literary exercise, or as an expression of platonic friendship in the language of romantic love (charges not used to question the heterosexuality of other authors), or as being the pen-name of a male author (which leaves open the question of why a male author would represent love between women). Bogin reviews these positions but appears not to question the female authorship of the work.

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