In this study of sexual violence and rape in French medieval literature and law, Kathryn Gravdal examines an array of famous works never before analyzed in connection with sexual violence. Using an approach that combines feminist criticism with contemporary French postmodern theory and American "law and literature" criticism, she examines literary texts ranging from religious dramas for nuns to Arthurian romance and pastoral poetry, and historical texts including legal theory, church law and courtroom records. Gravdal's study is also informed by the techniques of traditional medieval studies, particularly the philological study of the medieval vocabulary for representing rape (of particular importance since there was no word for rape in the Old French language). Gravdal demonstrates the variety of techniques through which medieval discourse made rape acceptable: sometimes through humour or aestheticization, sometimes through the use of social and political themes, but especially through the romanticization of rape scenes. The audience's attention was drawn skilfully away from the female victim and toward the dilemmas of the male characters.
In most cases, male violence against women was depicted as a frustrated expression of love, and male aggression and female suffering were coded as erotically appealing. The text emphasizes the countless parallels between medieval and modern attitudes about rape.
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press