Marie de France’s “Lanval” is a Breton lai dominated by themes common to 12th century literature, which through its exploration of love, erotic desire, wealth, gender and community, tells the story of a young knight who finds himself caught between two worlds: his lover’s and his own. Forced to separate these societies by a warning in which his lover states, “do not let any man know about this…you would lose me for good if this love were known” (Lines 145-148), Lanval must keep his love a secret and exist apart from the Arthurian world into which he was born. Consequently, romantic love between Lanval and his fairie queen exists conditionally, that is upon Lanval’s physical and emotional isolation. This restriction suggests that romantic love, as described in terms of erotic desire and physical/emotional devotion throughout “Lanval,” is unsuited for existence in the mundanity of Arthurian society. Therefore, Lanval’s solitude is necessary for his maintaining his relationship with the fairie queen, a fact that suggests the incompatibility of romantic love with Arthurian society, as Marie depicts it.
Lanval’s initial introduction to the reader is one that focuses solely on his emotional and physical isolation from the rest of the Arthurian world as “he was far from his heritage” (27-28) and forgotten by King Arthur upon the king’s lavish distribution of “wives and lands” (17) to his “members of the Round Table” (15). The king’s knights are depicted as a “company with no equal in all the world” (16), a description which excludes Lanval. Consequently, the use of the word “company” in this account of his contemporaries is particularly significant as its multiple definitions a...
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...ther in order to maintain their relationship. Neither are seen or heard from again.
Therefore, Lanval’s physical and emotional solitude is seen to facilitate his meeting the fairie queen and enables him to maintain his relationship with her. Similarly, their romance is unable to exist within Arthurian society, which promotes values unsuitable for their love, including the tendency of the individual to congregate and the portrayal of women as objects of possession and statements of wealth. Further discussion of the use of solitude and isolation in “Lanval” may analyze the benefits and detriments of Lanval’s separation from society and similarly debate the significance of the ending of the lai.
1) France, Marie de. The Lais of Marie de France. trans. Robert Hanning and Joan
Ferrante. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1995.105-123.
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