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Blogging Kalamazoo 2021: Session 401 - Love on the Battlefield

Saturday, May 15, 2021 - 10:01

I picked this session because of the Amazon paper, which—alas—the presenter does not want shared on social media. It’s the last day of the conference and my initial picks cover five sequential sessions with no break. We’ll see if I decide that walking away from the screen for a while is more interesting than one of the sessions.

"Do you know who my father is?!": Gendered Imperialism and the Exceptional Parent Excuse in Sir Degaré - Arielle C. McKee, Gardner-Webb University

[Paper begins with a content warning for sexual assault and violence.] The romance of Sir Degaré links prowess in battle with the domination and control of women. “Love” and battle are conflated with women being a prize to be won. Standard plot where a king’s daughter will only be allowed to marry a man who bests her father in combat. The princess encounters a faerie on a journey who rapes and impregnates her. The resulting child (Degaré) is left as a foundling with magical tokens to identify him. This misfires when he ends up besting his grandfather in combat and almost marrying his mother, except the magical tokens identify her just in time. Degaré then goes on a quest to find his father, and the ultimate resolution involves him winning a princess as a bride and reuniting his mother and father who then marry.

Women in the story are framed not simply as beautiful but as valuable for their inheritance and status. There is a common theme in medieval romances on the “gift” of women along with land as a reward for service or valor. Because victory in combat is the prerequisite for marrying the princess, “love” is set aside as a motivation in favor of desire for land and power and the demonstration of physical domination.

Degaré’s eventual bride is obtained by defending her and her castle against and attacker/would-be ravisher, and she secures his military services by offering both her lands and herself as payment.

The title of the paper brings in the authority of lineage that excuses one’s actions. The child of an exceptional father is both expected to be exceptional and given freedom from the consequences of the actions taken to claim that privilege. Although the central theme of the romance is Degaré’s search for his parentage, the events rest on the authority, privilege, and magical glamor that he already has by virtue of that unknown paternal privilege, which is accessible to the reader and therefore mitigates the reader’s potential negative judgments of his behavior. Women have no such inherited authority or privilege in the tale, but are framed as continually vulnerable and valuable, accessible to whatever powerful man intersects their path.

Violence, Vulnerability, and Hurt/Comfort Fanfiction in the Stanzaic Guy of Warwick and the Alliterative Morte Arthure - Megan B. Abrahamson, Central New Mexico Community College

Yes, she’s going there: Arthurian romances as fan fiction. And she’s analyzing texts through the lens of fan fiction tropes and formulas. Specifically, the use of excessive violence and resulting injury as a mechanism for allowing “manly men” to engage in physical and emotional closeness.

Guy of Warwick goes on pilgrimage to atone for his past violent deeds, but somehow keeps getting embroiled in other people’s business and engaging in further violence while on the journey. In the Morte d’Arthur, Arthur conquers across Europe until needing to return to deal with Modred. Both Arthur’s and Modred’s pain are driving motivations.

Because the audience is expected to be familiar with the characters and situations, the author is able to begin in media res, similarly to fan fiction, and focus on specific emotional events that are given context by the larger literary context. We get a summary of the elements and meanings of hurt/comfort and examples of the characteristics in medieval art and literature.

In fan fiction, one role of hurt/comfort is to allow hyper-masculine characters to engage in vulnerability/care/closeness. (The paper is being read very quickly so I’m having a hard time keeping up.) The reader participates vicariously in this dynamic.

In medieval romances, the expressed pain/anguish (whether physical or emotional) provides an invitation for one man to engage with and comfort another man. In contrast, women’s pain/anguish is typically ignored by men. Male characters are allowed to express extreme emotions toward each other in the context of these hurt/comfort episodes.

In the Morte d’Arthur, Arthur and Modred’s parallel grief over Gawain’s death (at Modred’s hands) provides the trigger for both to express and recognize emotional pain to each other. Picking up a thread I missed earlier, these scenes also provide context for male characters to gaze on and express admiration for male bodies in an intimate way.

Love, Sex, and Amazons - Suzanne C. Hagedorn, College of William & Mary

[The presenter has requested that their paper not be shared on social media.]

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