Dr. Elizabeth Emery is a Professor of French at Montclair State University (New Jersey, USA) where she teaches medieval and nineteenth-century French literature and culture. She is the author of books, articles, and essay anthologies related to the reception of medieval art and architecture in nineteenth-century France and America and the links among early photography, journalism, and celebrity culture. Her books dedicated to medievalism include Telling the Story in the Middle Ages (co-edited with Karen Duys and Laurie Postlewate; D. S. Brewer, 2015), Consuming the Past: The Medieval Revival in Fin-de-siècle France (co-written with Laura Morowitz; Ashgate Press, 2003), reissued by Routledge in 2017; Medievalism: Key Critical Terms (co-edited with Richard Utz; Boydell & Brewer, 2014), reissued in paperback in 2017. Her new book, Reframing Japonisme: Women and the Asian Art Market in Nineteenth-Century France (1853-1914) will appear with Bloomsbury Visual Arts this fall.
Medievalism, Rules of the Game: From Geneviève de Brabant to “Princess Steel”
Saturday, November 16, 2020
6:00 – 7:15 pm (EST)
Medieval manuscripts overflow with merry examples of “play,” from what Michael Camille called “images on the edge,” to vibrant descriptions of tournaments, feasts, and theatrical productions. “Playful” twenty-first-century genres such as video games and movies, on the other hand, present a disproportionately bleak vision of the medieval period. Focused on class or ethnic warfare, their rules tend to pit one group against another, thereby reinforcing late nineteenth-century tropes of the medieval period as codified by national, ethnic, or gender identity.
In this presentation, Roger Caillois’ notion of the conflict between ludus and paidia (Les Hommes et les Jeux, 1958) will serve as a framework to re-examine the “rules” of medievalism established in late nineteenth-century Europe and still too often accepted without question today. Two instances of medievalism created one hundred years apart—the private dramatic production of Geneviève de Brabant that Germaine de Staël and her children wrote, rehearsed, and performed during the summer of 1807, and W.E.B. Du Bois’ unpublished short story “Princess Steel” (c. 1907)—serve as chronological bookends. In both examples, imagined medieval women’s voices play a crucial role in addressing issues of class, race, gender, and ability. Creative experimentation with the open-ended representational strategies of medievalism allowed de Staël and Dubois to “play” with the rules thought to govern medieval society, while providing models for articulating medievalism today.