The article examines an unusual motif in the context of chivalric literature: the activities and adventures of a community of women in the absence of their men, where the story does not focus on the resolution of that absence. The work was composed in Germany slightly before 1300 and presents a community of noble families whose men are engaged in tournaments and the pursuit of honor.
The article begins by defending the use of the term "lesbian" by citing Brooten's evidence for a medieval sense of a woman who "behaves like a man" and "is oriented toward female companionship for sex" while raising several issues with that usage. But the author is examining a similar apparent contradiction in medieval texts to the one found by Brooten in early Christian texts: an acceptance (to some degree) of female same-sex unions combined with hostility toward female appropriation of male roles.
In the chansons de geste, women might don male garb for a variety of reasons, especially for safety, but also to be able to participate in masculine activities or join male groups. There is a repeating motif of the woman who disguises herself as a knight and succeeds in winning great renown in that guise. A common twist then has her dealing with the amorous or matrimonial desires of another woman, as in the story of Yde and Olive.
Schibanoff’s article explores the close emotional relations between 12th century abbess Hildegard of Bingen and Richardis of Stade, a younger noblewoman who became a nun under her. Their relationship led to conflict when Richardis left to become abbess at a different institution and Hildegard went to great lengths to try to arrange for her return.
Chapter 1 (Introduction)
A discussion of terminology, some of the cross-cultural problems of defining the topic of the book, and a statement of intent.
Chapter 2 (In the Beginning: 40,000-1200 BCE)
Edition and English translation of a 13th c. French Arthurian romance. Roche-Mahdi has a brief preface giving the history and context of the manuscript and a brief synopsis of the major themes.