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Tracking Medieval Orientalism: Religion and Gender in Le Conte de Floire et Blanchefleur

Abstract

Gender has been an extremely lively area of research for decades, and this is especially true in medieval studies. Recently, medievalists have directed efforts to understanding cross-cultural and cross-religious contacts. However, these two research directions-- gender and cross-cultural encounters-- have yet to merge in a sustained exploration. My project aims to investigate the link between religious difference and gendering in a study of Le Conte de Floire et Blanchefleur. This romance crafts a narrative that suggests that there is a correlation, if not causation, between religious status and gender presentation. Floire is a pagan (though presumably Muslim) prince who falls in love with Blanchefleur, who is the daughter of aChristian servant. The young prince voyages to the East to save his beloved from the clutches of an emir. However, what is curious is the process of religious conversion he undergoes and the resulting changes in his appearance as his journey progresses. His travels and the people heencounters apper to function to underscore Floire’s various attributes. One can trace how Floire’s physical appearance changes from something feminine to masculine as he assumes a Christian identity through his rescue quest and conversion.

Floire’s metamorphosis is compelling in that is it an inversion of the later medieval paradigm of Saracen women falling in love with Christian men. I plan to examine the significance of Floire’s inversion and conversion toward Christianity and masculinity. The text offers one of the earliest examples of gendering discourse in the romance genre, and it is distinct from the later conversion tales that involve Saracen women. The project will thus examine the topos of converted Saracen women in other medieval texts that deal with issues of gender and religious difference in order to understand how potentially transgressive Floire’s transformation is. This comparative investigation would elucidate if Floire et Blanchefleur is unique in how it treats gender and religion in a multicultural context. The romance offers a glimpse into some medieval French notions of the Other through this lens of travel, which uncovers attitudes toward gender and religion.

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