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Guenevere Burning

AMY S. KAUFMAN

Reading for Guenevere's desires within both historical and theoretical
frameworks can reawaken the pleasures of Malory's Morte Darthur for
feminist critics. (ASK)

Ma s'a conoscer la prima radice
del nostro amor tu hai cotanto afFecto,
dirö come colui che piange e dice.
—Francesca, Dante's Inferno

M etacritical endeavors in which scholars explore their own pleasure have
coaxed medieval studies into a delightful and perpetual swoon as of late.'
But pleasure is tricky business for the feminist reader of medieval Arthutian
literature, mostly because we are always told that we are not supposed to
be having any.^ Our time period is considered inaccessibly patriarchal, our
writers deemed misogynistic, and the characters on whom we focus rendered
marginal, artificially constructed, or worse yet, abstracted into the nebulous
'feminine.'' Guenevere is oftentimes the victim of this view of the literary
Middle Ages in readings that position her relationally to Lancelot, either as
his destroyer or his redeemer.'' Yet whether we are asked to choose between
Guenevere read as Mary or Guenevere read as Eve, we are still no closer to
Guenevere herself' She is always a 'false' Guenevere, always shifting, always
beyond our reach.
I am therefore delighted that this issue of ARTHURIANA takes the radical
position that Guenevere is a character with a story, a dynamic heroine who
explores both worldly and spiritual power, not an obstacle or accolade on
someone else's journey. The writers within interrogate a number of long-held
myths about what Guenevere means, myths that relegate her to symbolic or
ancillary roles, and they do so by analyzing her character during her most
intensely spiritual moments. For instance, Leah Haught explains the visitation
of the ghost of Guenevere's mother m Awntyrs of Arthure within the medieval
memento mori tradition (8), shifting the target of the ghost's accusation
from Guenevere's future sin to an implication of the entire Arthurian court
and even the patriarchal system that silences or redirects the voices of both

ARTHURIANA 20.1 (2OI0)

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Guenevere and her mother (13). Haught subtly reminds us that though the
literary and critical backgrounds we bring to the Awntyrs seem to facilitate
a reading of the ghost's words as a warning of Guenevere's 'dangerously
disruptive sexuality,' such a reading may be 'a biased, almost anachronistic
expectation to place on individual characters' (12). Virginia Blanton and Sue
Ellen Holbrook turn their focus to Guenevere's spiritual conversion at the end
of Malory's Morte Darthur. Blanton disputes suggestions that the converted
queen's portrait is 'cynical' by situating its description within 'conventional
expectations of aristocratic widowhood' while also foregrounding her
'exemplary ascetic behavior' to illuminate both Guenevere's character and her
agency (53). Sue Ellen Holbrook tises the history of Fontevraultine Amesbury
in order to contextualize Malory's 'hopeful portrait of a feminine rtiler who
knows how to heal a sinful soul' (24). In addition, she compares Guenevere's
healing process to the steps provided by John Gassian's theory of repentance,
revealing that Guenevere's language of penance and identification of herself
as a sinner 'crystallize the sense of sinflilness entailed in healing a soul' (34).
These sophisticated analyses take careful note of Guenevere's positionality,
the ways in which the queen's subjectivity lies at the nexus of the forces that
shape her—both textual and extratextual forces —and thus they offer us one
way out of a difficult critical problem: how to read women without either
essentializing female experience or dissolving it into the symbolic* In other
words, the writers in this issue think through Guenevere rather than 'with' her
and take pleasure in her perspective by imagining her possibilities. Haught,
Blanton, and Holbrook write Guenevere back into existence, providing us
with a heroine who teaches us about human love, spiritual insight, and holy
redemption.
Blanton, Haught, and Holbrook illuminate Guenevere through an
historical lens, but spirituality has other contexts, ones that transcend time
and place. Perhaps some pleasure is to be found, too, in imagining Guenevere's
interiority, her love and desires, and their implication in her most transcendent
moments. After all, for all our talk of pleasure, we rarely permit ourselves
to indulge in Guenevere's passions, and in our consternated analyses of her
character we forget that her erotic tension with Lancelot may have been a
deeply sensual experience for the medieval reader. Our neglect, however, may
be a symptom of a larger problem, which is that contemporary discussions of
pleasure suffer from the deficit of a notion of female desire; not an essentially
feminine desire, but desire instigated by a subject positioned as female.

FINDING GUENEVERE
The recent resurrection of transhistorical theories of subject .formation are
accompanied by' the unfortunate tendency to cast 'Woman' as the 'Other.'

they render it invisible. as it were.'^ Her emotion and her passion can seduce us throughout time and space—just ask Patilo and Francesca. Reintroducing pleasure into the vocabulary of feminist theory does not necessarily entail discarding these frustrating formulations of desire. rather than the inevitability of medieval women's invisibility. Girard. from the imaginary position of the Other. I am moved by Guinevere's emotional renunciation of her lover and of the secular world' (64). passionately and fervently. When Virginia Blanton remarks. Formulated as 'Other' by virtue of both her gender and her medieval alterity. and Zizek. is a locus of crisis for certain ontologies of self-signification. After all. they cannot imagine it. what the ease of erasing the woman's body from a reading may indicate.' Her use of the word 'generation. with the caveat that it is one among many possible ways of imagining Guenevere's interiority. including Freud. the erotic feminine.78 ARTHURIANA For instance. this work has been done for us in the expanded theories of interiority created by feminist writers. rendering Guenevere a 'mere' object of desire misses the point. Guenevere is an ideal model for imagining the pleasure of those positioned as object (or even abject). they cannot endorse it. I will make use of one theory in particular.^ Cohen conscientiously registers what is unsettling about thinking 'with' the queen in this way. implies 'less chronology than a signifying space. the queen's) is disturbingly easy to theorize. Guenevere has always been such a dangerous and destabilizing character because of her desire. To avoid the impossible task of conjuring 'the' feminist lens.* Perhaps. but that reading frequently hinges upon the dissolution of Guenevere into Lancelot's imagined construction of her. 'The disappearance of the woman's body (in this case. Lacan.' which she qualifies carefully. is that the woman's body. 'Despite my annoyance at the level of melodrama in this scene. adding in a footnote. it may be because . and hence. on not disappearing women's various experiences into the essentialized category of Woman's Experience. but it does require opening them up to make space for women's desire within them." Ifindthis a particularly usefiil lens through which to read Guenevere's own awakening. a both corporeal and desiring mental space. however. Finding feminist pleasure in theorizing interiority means drawing on discourses of female subjectivity and desire generated within the trenches. Jiilia Kristeva's essay 'Women's Time' imagines the formation of a specifically female subjectivity by describing a generational journey. which is that Guenevere is an object who is both desired and desires back.' and he cites extensive theoretical precedents for such an exercise. Jeffrey Cohen's work on Lancelot in Medieval Identity Machines serves up a masterful reading of Chretien's Lancelot as a masochist. Sedgwick. Indeed. Fortunately. a progression from one frame of feminist consciousness to another in a kind of awakening into and out of the patriarchal symbolic order.''" Her framework is also insistent on maintaining individuality.

is what becomes the reader's own emotional connection to the text. Guenevere's svadharma is love."^ I read her desire as waxing rather than waning as she transitions from object to subject.' I would suggest that Malory's queen's dedication to God is not necessarily 'an unexpected character shift' (51-52). shedding some part of the law imposed upon her that restricts her subjectivity." There is a Sanskrit word. she declares. for although I am thoroughly persuaded by Blanton's suggestion that critical resistance to Guenevere's late-blooming faith is a 'gendered response to a female sinner. to loving the best knight in the world.and there .'^ Her multiple possible immolations symbolize her growing identity. Guenevere's desire to see Ghrist's face is not at all inconsistent with her characterization as a 'trew lover' (3. the queen escapes. aware that she is a symbol of his power. a journey traveled on the path of love and desire. Each time. . In fact.'^ I take tentative steps toward imagining Guenevere's interiority by tracing her path through what Kristeva calls 'the symbolic question' and into her own system of signification. One might argue that she merely moves up the food chain in terms of the object of her desire. the desire that makes her so dangerous.12). her voice fades in and out of the text—a line here. svadharma. in her final moments. then. which means something like the soul's true calling. a word there. though. Guenevere is greatly conscientious of her prescribed role in the symbolic order as Arthur's wife.1120. Arthur treats her as his position and his privilege dictate: an extension of himself At first. GUENEVERE BURNING 7^ Guenevere's very passion. to transcend the limitations of both the physical and the metaphysical. FLAMING GUENEVERE Malory's Guenevere is brought before the fire 'to be brente' a total of three times. She commits herself to it entirely. Guenevere is more often talked about than a speaker herself. For nearly the first two thirds of Malory's Morte Darthur. something that allows the queen.' when she and Arthur are confronted with a treasonous attack. in part because of his reputation for creating emotionally complex characters. But there is also something powerfully transgressive about both the love and the God Guenevere seeks. When she does speak. My focus. we see glimmers of her character.'^ In 'The War with the Five Kings.. 'Yet were me lever to dey in this watir than to falle in youre enemyes handis. will be on Malory's Guenevere in particular. to settling in at the right side of God on Judgement Day. her journey toward redefining herself. and each time. she casts something into the fire. reading her spiritual conversion in Malory's Morte Darthur as the logical conclusion of the queen's journey to subjectivity. from devoting herself to Arthur. the trials by fire that mark moments in the development of her consciousness.

at one point. the ability to be both lover and beloved. it simply is not in her husband's job description. a sacrifice Guenevere is not only willing to make. declaring. she were gretly to blame' (1. Nor should he. responds from the position of someone secure with her faith in love: 'the ende. and.8o ARTHURIANA to be slayne' (1.129. She realizes with shock that the king can never reciprocate her own sacrifices. He strengthens her subjectivity through mutuality. wincingly. This lack of reciprocity. given the necessity of protecting the king's body. it is Lancelot who offers Guenevere a simulacrum of her own brand of love.6—8). 'shulde be thus. The moment in which Kay rescues Guenevere is a moment in which Arthur is othered for Guenevere. Isode declares. honor. the difference in their roles.^" Yet there are lacunae in Guenevere's praises of Kay. Guenevere.29—31).436. that 'there be within this londe but foure lovers. silences in her declarations about how deserving Kay is of love that say something more about how Arthur may not be. then. Her responses to his dalliances with other women. writing to complain of Tristram's betrayal when he marries another. her repeated accusations that Lancelot is being 'false' take on . erratic.425.' she proclaims. for her part. both real and imagined. to the medieval mind. and she praises the knight robustly. that Guenevere's legendary anger arises when Lancelot appears to betray the contract of love between them that lends her an identity. and that is sir Launcelot and dame Gwenyver. more perfect in his devotion? At first.^' Yet one wonders whether Guenevere had realized before now that though sacrifice is required of her. She is willing to die in order to spare Arthur the humiliation of having his queen murdered by his enemies. that he shall hate her and love you bettir than ever he dud' (1.' however. It makes sense. as expressions of irrational femininity. but even Isode must turn to Guenevere as an authority on love. creates a distance between the king and queen that will only continue to grow.'' This is precisely the same sacrifice that Guenevere herself has offered Arthur. 'What lady that ye love and she love you nat agayne. for who. but is compelled to make by virtue of her position. could be more noble. Guenevere begins to be defined within the text precisely for her capacity to love. Guenevere defines love as something to be earned by brave demonstrations of affection. Her words in this episode—both the words she utters and the words she does not—foreshadow what will eventually drive the queen into Christ's arms.19-20).'* Yet it is Sir Kay who intervenes to rescue her from both unpleasant fates. and loyalty. however. sparked by the devotion of a beloved who is capable of self-sacrifice. and a fissure in Guenevere's understanding of love that creeps through her weighty silence in the first portion of Malory's works. more altruistic. of course. and as her love for Lancelot grows. are often read as unreasonable. ^^ When we consider Malory's designation of Guenevere as a 'trew lover.25—26). and sir Trystrames and quene Isode' (1.128.

[more] than ever ye were wonte to have beforehande' (2. This situation forces Guenevere to confront what Kristeva calls 'the symbolic question.1-5) Guenevere's words ('false. as the booke seythe.26-31). (2. she 'gaff many rebukes to sir Launcelot and called hym^/ff knyght' (2.'^' What is her role in the order of things. in his words.. When she can finally speak. recrayed knyght and a comon lechourere. 'I se and fele dayly that youre love begynnyth to slake. after all. Guenevere bursts into tears. for ye have no joy to he in my presence. but she bare hit oute with a proude countenaunce. but ever ye ar oute of thys courte.' 'comon. When Lancelot confesses that he has hidden himself from her for fear of 'shame and sclaundir. inwardely. emphasis mine). she once again accuses him of being both 'false' and 'comon': now I well understonde that thou arte a false.5-11) Guenevere's identity ruptures again in one of our most shockingly intimate moments with the queen: when she hears her lover in another woman's bed. She dismisses Lancelot from her sight. For instance.1047.' 'falsehede') position the reader with the queen. contrasting her devotion to the truth of love to Lancelot's duplicitous construction of himself What Guenevere objects to is his public façade. the queen is 'nyghe . madyns and jantillwomen. one that hides passion in order to maintain a proper courtly exterior.1045.. shielding himself from her pain by thrusting 'the booke' between himself and the queen: So whan Sir Launcelot was departed the quene outewarde made no maner of sorow in shewing to none of his bloode nor to none other. 'men sholde undirstonde my joy and my delite ys my plesure to have ado for damesels and maydyns' (2. and of me thou haste dysdayne and scorne. When Lancelot fails to respond to Guenevere's invitation to her chambers because he has been ensorcelled into Elaine's bed instead. but wyte ye well. and lovyste and holdiste othir ladyes.18-19.1046. Another confrontation ensues when she feels Lancelot withdrawing from her. and Malory's own language tears back and forth.32-1046. she toke grete thought. GUENEVERE BURNING 8l new meaning. now I undirstonde thy falsehede I shall never love the more. For wyte thou well.802. and she warns. and quarels and maters ye have nowadayes for ladyes.' wanting to create the image ofa ladies' man so that.1-2).1048. she rapidly ruptures. (2. when Guenevere discovers that Elaine of Corbin is pregnant with her lover's child. hardly able to bridge the gap between her inner sorrow and her outward repression. if she is not defined as Lancelot's beloved? How will Guenevere identify herself? When Guenevere attempts to adopt Lancelot's identity. as thoughe she felte no thought nother daungere. the one that rejects the love between them.

a rationale in which both partners are rendered objects.18—21).28—29).' Elaine's love of Lancelot. and than she wrythed and waltred as a madde woman. I myght have getyn the love of my lorde sir Launcelot. (2. the shock of her pain. embrace her designated role—fails so miserably that it endangers her life. and a grete cause I have to love hym. and Guenevere. She throws a dinner party to show that she 'had as grete joy in all other knyghtes of the Rounde Table as she had in sir Launcelot' (2. she is in pragmatic accord with the rationale of arranged marriages between nobles. combined with the claustrophobic setting and suffocatingly familiar details of their intimacy—Lancelot's instant recognition of her 'hemyng. is based on the claims to her love that he has according to social codes: her 'maydynhood' and her son. passion. ye have done grete synne and yourselfFgrete dyshonoute. but his station: Arthur deserves love because he is a 'lorde royall. and the passion of her love. like Elaine. Elaine's logical arguments simply fail to carry the same heat. No .805.14-15). Guenevere's stifled outburst. Sir Patryse. for ye have a lorde royall of youre owne.1048.e or a fyve owres' (2. a cough. too. bravery.' 'a grete cause I have to love hym. though Elaine of Gorbin's love for Lancelot is reasonable in many ways. or power as Guenevere's cough.805. she must compress the whole of her being into wordless noise. for he hadde my maydynhode and by hym I have borne a fayte sonne whose [name] ys sir Galahad.^' Perhaps this is why.' her deep familiarity with his 'clattir'—transport us into the horror of betrayal. This differs so drastically from Guenevere's pronouncement that women should love sir BCay for his nobility. In other words. And yf ye were nat. her rationale for loving Lancelot leaves us (and Lancelot) cold. and then she cowghed so lowde that sir Launcelot awaked' (2.82 ARTHURIANA oute of her wytte. She scolds Guenevere: madame. suddenly understand that she is so stifled. [and for anger and payne wist not what to do]. Guenevere's second attempt to be 'false. as are the words she uses to defend it when she confronts the queen. and myght nat slepe a fout.806.^* She speaks as if lovers are exchangeable. We.' to suppress her interiority and drape herself in social façade—and. and devotion that Elaine and Guenevere might as well be speaking different languages. (2. Even Elaine's remarks about Arthur are not about his person.1049. The thanks she gets is that Sir Madore accuses her of poisoning his cousin.8-10). Her breaking point takes place when she hears Lancelot chattering in his sleep: 'And whan she harde hym so clattir she was wrothe oute of mesure.13-23) Elaine's descriptions of love position her squarely within the symbolic order that Guenevere is on the way to rejecting. for there ys no quene in this worlde that hath suche another kynge as ye have.') rather than passionately transcendent. and therefore hit were youre parte for to love hym. collateral. and as if love is rational and duty-bound ('youre parte.^ We are meant to feel the queen's frustrated desire and repressed anger.

When she hears that Lancelot wears Elaine's sleeve as his token. her passions invisible. GUENEVERE BURNING 83 one will defend her in the ensuing trial by combat. Between this fire and the next.14-15).^' Her quest for language manifests in seemingly contradictory reactions to Lancelot's attentions to Elaine of Ascolot. As Elaine's corpse floats by.6). Without her eye for the woman's words. she is too angry to speak to Lancelot at all. Hence. and she chides Lancelot.^^ Although Lancelot eventually rescues her. something of Guenevere is cast into the fiâmes. translating what is 'Othered' and mystified (2. the one in which Bors. what Kristeva calls 'the dynamic of signs.12-15). Guenevere must wonder.29-30). Elaine's death would have remained a mystery.9-10). "that ye can nat kepe sir Launcelot uppon youre syde?"' (2. her interiority unarticulated. What. As Lancelot waits outside the window of the room in which she is imprisoned. her proximity to Lancelot. Indeed. when he discovers that her would-be protector has gone missing: '"What aylith you. and by default. is the point of being queen if the protection supposedly offered by the marriage contract fails her so drastically? What possibly can be gained by assuming a perpetually sacrificed position? The murder charge brings Guenevere to her first confrontation with the fire.17). however.^' Guenevere's efforts to articulate desire are advanced when she is kidnapped by Mellyagaunt. it is Guenevere who spies the suicide letter in her hand. Guenvere struggles to redefine herself within language. 'ye myght have shewed hir som bownté and jantilnes whych myght have preserved hir lyff' (2. abandoned by Arthur a second time.1055. the king. But perhaps Guenevere begins to understand the commonality between Elaine of Ascolat and herself when she sees the result of the Maid's thwarted love: the horrors of silenced female desire. What she chooses to discard is her role in the sacrificial sociosymbolic contract.1051. a stifled sound. hearing what is hidden. This may be what drives the queen to trade jealousy for compassion. not her savior (2.1096. not even Arthur.' and transcend the role that confines her expression of love to a dolorous. the queen is forced to speak her desires in order to have the company of her lover: . and Bors responds by humiliating her for the loss of Lancelot with words even more cutting than the king's: 'I mervayle how ye dare for shame to requyre me to do onythynge for you. Arthur reinforces his distance and diflference from Guenevere. The 'grete fyre made aboute an iron stake' is visceral enough that we feel its heat (2." seyde the kynge. and their access to one another is separated by iron bars. insomuche ye have enchaced oute of your courte by whom we were up borne and honoured' (2.1052. Guenevere reads the silent woman. Guenevere is once again confronted with the 'symbolic question' when she is forced to kneel before Bors to beg for his protection. and Lancelot define her identity and desires. who is required by his position to be her judge. echoing cough.1097.1050.

and Guenevere soon has another fire to face. ventriloquizing her passionate rage. Guenevere frees herself from something while she waits. truly.1139. 'I wolde as fayne as ye that ye myght com in to me. any order.27-31—3. it is the symbolic order itself that she discards. This time. And full well knew sir Launcelot by her sygnys that she wolde have hym dede. And if she has been 'burned' by voicing Elaine's confession and her own desires to Lancelot. and Lancelot becomes her agent.84 ARTHURIANA 'Wyte you well. Though her third . is far too precarious a position to maintain. She and her lover have now entered into a contract beyond language. Guenevere is 'brought tyll a fyre to be brente' while Arthur and his court are helpless. and they transport Guenevere herself from object to subject with Lancelot's facilitation. So sir Launcelot loked uppon the quene. Guenevere shows how she has changed when Mellyagaunt yields himself to Lancelot and asks him for mercy: Than sir Launcelot wyst nat what to do. and once again.' seyde the quene. Lancelot appears at the last minute to rescue her. When she speaks her desire into existence. the balance to Arthur's violent justice. 'wyth youre harte that I were with you?' 'Ye. 'Than shall I prove my myght.5-13). Guenevere's confession rescues her from both a physical and a metaphorical prison—her prison of silence. her words make both lovers more powerful. gyfFhe myght aspye by ony sygne or countenaunce what she wolde have done.' seyde sir Launcelot. 'full sore abaysshed and shamed that the quene shulde have be brente in the defaute of sir Launcelot' (3. as ho seyth "sie hym". for he had lever than all the good in the worlde that he myght be revenged uppon hym.' (3.1-3) Guenevere delivers a wordless command.1131.14-20) It may be no accident that this exchange has the feel of ritual about it. (3. madame. beyond speech: she 'wagged hir hede. the queen must sacrifice something else to the fires of transformation when she is faced with a second burning after Mellyagaunt finds Lancelot's blood on her sheets. They give Lancelot the strength to tear open the iron bars of her prison window.' 'Wolde ye so.1137. rejecting both the language that constructs her and her position within society as a merciful queen.'" A rejection of any language.' knowing he would enact her desire. Still. Once again. before the fire. And anone the quene wagged hir hede uppon sir Launcelot.' seyde sir Launcelot. If she has been a symbol of mercy by granting reprieve to the penitent knights Lancelot sends her way in Malory's 'Noble Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lake.' seyde the quene.' now she will take on the guise of destroyer.1138. Guenevere will abandon words for the language of the body. 'for youre love. she could utter only a cough. the prison from which.

Thanks to Lacan. Arthur declares. she is 'dispoyled into he[r] smokke. ye have concented that she sholde have be hrente and destroyed in youre hete. seizes the tower of London and defends it from all intruders (3. their union the only love aflfair in which she.' convincing him to let her go shopping in London. Guenevere casts off all falseness. her heavenly father has been brought to her.9-11). too fragile. and Lancelot's love is too earthly. and awakens into a new consciousness. as an interrogation of the sacrificial contract en masse. nurturing the illusion that she will remain bound by the constraints of her role as queen (3. rescue the queen again. It figures. then Guenevere can only find the perfect love in Ghrist.' Mordred trusts her when she speaks 'fayre. She is no longer waiting for Lancelot. my lorde. one that entails the 'demassification' of the binary of sexual différence. burning with passionate subjectivity.1227.'^ And as Gawain protests the queen's execution. Guenevere. in which the contract's dangers and deceptions are repeatedly rendered explicit by multiple characters. the only partner who adequately can return her self- sacrificing passions. it is differently realized. she abandoned it to the previous pyres. immolations at the altar of Arthur's own identity: 'oftyntymes.22-23). in fact. another husband. existing as a kind of anti-identity. A tower—if .1227. we hardly need ask which law Arthur means.19-21. the one that occurs when Lancelot and Guenevere are caught in flagrante delicto by Mordred and Aggravayne. and she is silent in the text for some time. nor is Guenevere brought to them. Guenevere's new identity emerges.1177." But Guenevere is well beyond The Law. Arthur announces his need to sacrifice Guenevere in order to maintain his honor: 'I may nat with my worshyp but my quene muste suffir dethe' (3.'"» Yet she is faced with the unpleasant prospect of another sacrificial contract.16-18).15-18).' (3. GUENEVERE BURNING 85 confrontation with the flames is the most prominent one.18-21). First. GUENEVERE BURNING Lancelot does. suddenly and unexpectedly. In her third confrontation with death. And than her gostely fadir was brought to her to be shryven of her myssededis' (3.1175. can be completely sovereign. emphasis mine). For if Arthur is too political and detached a lover. There is no sight of the flames. Instead. when she is given into Mordred's care and he means to make her his queen.1188. She is now stripped of everything. eventually. Guenevere is both externally and internally revealed.'' Lancelot makes plain that this is the role of all of Guenevere's multiple possible burnings.1174. herself. Provoked by this threat. Instead. perhaps busy formulating what Kristeva might call a 'third attitude' in her understanding of interiority. 'she shall have the law' (3. both the instability of illicit love and the mutability of earthly lovers. Shriven and disrobed. she deftly negotiates the limitations of Mordred's imaginary version of her while remaining true to her 'harte.

though taking a nun's habit is often described as becoming the bride of Ghrist. the position of abbess appears to be one in which Guenevere finds the freedom and sovereignty of being no one's possession but her own. united with the Savior after the Last Judgment' (37). and so she wente to Amysbyry. as in Guenevere's speech. She announces: Therefore. not literal. thorow Goddis grace and thorow Hys Passion of Hys woundis wyde. for all the lo[v]e that ever was betwyxt us. by the eyes of men. and on Doomesday to sytte on Hys ryght syde. leading some critics to believe that her passion. The moment in which she is confronted with Lancelot is the same moment at which she reaches out to Ghrist for his embrace. to be rendered. as reson w[o]lde' (3.' she took 'great penaunce' upon herself. if not her love. briefly. She does not want to be seen.1252.11-20) Holbrook reminds us that 'to "see God's face" was allegorical. (3.'* Yet in terms of her identity. Guenevere's passions have far from disappeared. one in which she will be able to confirm her own 'healed' identity at the sight of his face. Here Lacan interrupts my description of Guenevere's progress. the expression meant that the soul was in the formless spiritual presence of its Maker in contemplation or. and therefore ideally loving. Virginia Blanton points out that 'Malory stresses Guinevere's agency by using a series of action verbs: 'she stale away. that aft:ir my deth I may have a syght of the blyss[ed] face of Cryste Jesu.3-5). who has come to retrieve her. Guenevere's desire to get her 'soule hele' is linked to two important factors." Yet while she may here renounce Lancelot and worldly things. by the arrival of Lancelot.2-3). [fo]r as synfuU as ever I was. that thou never se me no more in the visayge.' 'she went to Amysbury. thus. to be cast again into the role of desired object. And there she lete make herselff a nunne' (3. relationship with Ghrist.1249. This ideal arrangement is disrupted. captured. Blanton concludes. sir Launcelot. as supported by feminine . asking 'why not interpret a face of the Other. and held hostage until the death of Guenvere's would-be oppressors frees her to create a symbolic order of her own. the God face. and almes-dedis'.1243. sir Launcelot. then at least a centralized locus of patriarchal rule—is here invaded.86 ARTHURIANA not a phallus. And yet I truste. wyte thou well I am sette in suche a plyght to get my soule hele. Once released.' her face. Guenevere takes off in pursuit. but of her new identity: 'she stale away with fyve ladyes with her. not of Lancelot's loving embrace. 'Guinevere has chosen a path of self-governance' (58-59). now ar seyntes in hevyn.' she 'wered whyght clothys and blak. The second is her desire to enter into a mutually sacrificial. Before long. I requyre the and beseche the hartily. Guenevere is steadfast in her rejection of him. 'she lyved in fastynge. she becomes 'abbas and rular. prayers. has withered in the face of her penance. The first is denying the world her 'visage.' 'she lete make herselffe a nunne. And there[f]ore. Indeed.

to deliver them both from the Imaginary. one that may well qualify as Kristeva's 'demassification of the problem of difference. so as to make it disintegrate in its very nucleus. all of whom imagine Ghrist as God's love made flesh. For me. we have the pleasure of not having to speculate. particularly when expressed by women writers. at least—register with the erotic in an alternate symbolic order created by women. and worst of all. frequently dreamed of God as an erotic partner. and compassion—is a longing for the manifestation of love that is both erotic and feminine. danger.'''^ Such passion for God is foreign and far-fetched to us—it connotes madness. Teresa. let me warm their union a little with the pleasures of history. the irony of my reading is that even Kristeva's own later work categorizes medieval women who turn to the church as engaging in an 'exacerbated masochism. one that moves 'full circle from the masculine world of chivalric action to the feminine one of spiritual subjugation. is its taint of femininity. Guenevere's desire to see Ghrist's face also speaks to an intention to make both lover and beloved corporeal. in other words. desirer/desired. Ghrist's face may therefore—for Guenevere. a pleasure- . GUENEVERE BURNING 87 jouissanceV^'' He insists that Guenevere can be read like St. if not that of religion. in personal and sexual identity itself.''*'* Perhaps the way that we must blend history and theory in order to make a reading 'fit' should teach us not to marry ourselves to one notion of interiority within medieval literature.'*' What compels us to shut Guenevere's potential subjectivity down in her conversion.''*" Kristeva asks. In fact. 'What discourse. Janet Jesmok has argued that 'No one in the Morte demonstrates a more profound understanding of Ghristian belief than Guinevere.' in which 'the struggle. Perhaps I could do well enough to leave both Guenevere and Ghrist here. Moreover the queen's spirituality could have served as a cathartic release of both forbidden lust and the daily oppression of women's existence much in the way her erotic passions could have fanned vicarious flames. to render it unimaginable. both Woman and 'the term God' merging in the Other. submission. the implacable difference. fanaticism. at least when it comes to the past. not tofixit in a stultifying framework. one that obliterates the dichotomies of worshipper/worshipped. before both Guenevere and Ghrist become frozen within Lacan's symbolic order. seeker and truth. banished to the Infinite wasteland of Otherness. 'beyond the phallus. the violence be conceived in the very place where it operates with the maximum intransigence.'' Guenevere's specific longing for Ghrist's face—for the face of God's love.''* But instead. and Margery Kempe. forgiveness. Julian of Norwich. The pre-modern imagination.' and she describes Guenevere's conversion as a profound transition in Malory. Guenevere's longing to see Ghrist's face immediately calls to mind the poetic spirituality of Marguerite Porete. would be able to support this adventure?''*' Fortunately for medievalists.

Her work includes articles on gender in medieval Arthurian literature and medievalism in contemporary culture. 1995). Following the thread of desire that connects us to Guenevere's erotic longing. for instance. We. As readers.'" Thus. is editing The Year's Work in Medievalism 2009. but to explore instead the pleasures of the possible. appropriate. and is currently finishing a monograph on Malory's women. the moments that we experience as a journey. '"So That We May Speak of Them": Enjoying the Middle Ages. Michigan. Removed as we are from the spiritual and erotic passions of the Middle Ages. WESLEYAN COLLEGE. NOTES A version of this essay was presented at the 44th International Congress on Medieval Studies. Yet even if we are more comfortable when she isflingingflaming arrows in her leather bikini than flinging herself at men and God. Perhaps our svadharma is not so different from the queen's. too. Negotiating a text from the position of the Other (the medieval or the 'feminine.' take your pick) may bring us closer to understanding medieval women. Louise Olga Fradenburg. including advertising and video games. May 2009. and faith.' See. dreamed as the power to become impenetrable. GEORGIA Amy S. anger. undefiled. Kalamazoo. for many of us. Kaufman is Assistant Professor of English and Womens Studies at Wesleyan College. Patricia .2 (1997): 205-30. have embarked on a path of self-sacrificing. p. is her difference: her silenced desire and her spiritual passion. and pure. with Guenevere as our lens. instead. 31. ARTHURIANA killing ontology. Julian. these writers can be said to reject. we might see and feel the medieval reader's experience in all of its unsettling complexity. we may be embarrassed by Guenevere's excesses of love.' New Literary History 28. indulgent love. union with Ghrist is not imagined as weakness but is. The Portable Dante (New York: Penguin Books. we immerse ourselves in the alterity of what. The epigraph is translated by Mark Musa. The decadence of that immersion is where feminist critics might find our long-lost pleasure lurking. She is area chair of Arthurian legend for the National Popular Culture Association. And it is possible that for Guenevere. and even Marguerite. as follows: 'But if your great desire is to learn / The very root of such a love as ours / I shall tell you. We want to commit ourselves to our stories as fully as Guenevere commits herself to her own objects of desire. not as a symptom. Georgia. Margery. even if our object of devotion is the past. we are drawn to literature because of what is transcendent within it. and redefine both the symbolic feminine and the symbol of God so as to make the gendered binary in which each one normally figures completely meaningless. but in words offlowingtears.

and the Female Reader: The Problem in Chretien's Charrete. Repr. The Bad. 'Recovering Malory's Guenevere. 'It has become critically commonplace to trivialize the role of Guenevere in Malory's work or even to condemn her as the object which prevents Lancelot from achieving the Grail. and Counter-Heroes: Images of Women in Arthurian Tradition. 'The Rhetoric of Character in Malory's Morte Darthur^ Texas Studies in Language and Literature x% (1986): 339 [339-52]. Gender and Genre in Medieval French Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2 (Spring 1997): 231-60. O H : Bowling Green State University Popular Press. 245-57]. Krueger in Women Readers and the Ideology of Gender in Old French Verse Romance (Cambridge. 1992). 'Knowing and Unknowing Pleasures.' ARTHURIANA 17. pp.' Mid-Hudson Language Studies 5 (1982): 21-29. and Parasites: Teaching the Roles of Women in Arthurian Literature Courses.' The Platte Valley Review 18 (1990): 3-24. but some of these include Mary Etta Scott. 45 [pp. Sally K. Elizabeth Archibald.' See Hill. she becomes an object of male desire or of exchange between men. Hill points out. 'The Pleasures of Arthur. 'The female reader who projects herself into romance is often entrapped by her literary encounter. ed. p. (1998): 32-36. Heroines. 1990).' see. For characterizations of romance as a realm in which masculine knights are imperiled by the threat of 'the feminine. and James Noble. 'The Good. 250 [pp. MacDonald (Amsterdam: VU University Press. 2002). 'Malory's Lancelot and the Lady Huntress. 'Desire. BCrueger. As Sarah J. Simon Gaunt. 267-89].' in On Arthurian Women: Essays in Memory of Maureen Fries. 'Pawns. Marian MacCurdy. Predators. from Proceedings of the Medieval Association of the Midwest 1 (1991): 131-48. 'The Embarrassments of Romance. Maureen Fries. and the BABEL Working Group's panels at the 35th Annual Southeast Medieval Association Meeting in 2009.' According to Roberta L. 5-17. Bonnie Wheeler and Fiona Tolhurst (Dallas: Scriptorium Press.' New Literary History 28. 2001). Slocum (Bowling Green.' ARTHURIANA 17. 1993). 'Gilding the Lily (Maid): Elaine of Astolat. p.' On the complex relationship among medieval romance. 267 [pp. 'Masoch/Lancelotism.4 (2007): 114-16. and pleasure. 1995) and Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. and the Ugly: A Study of Malory's Women. ed. 'Women and Romance. Hank Aertsen and Alasdair A. Maud Burnett Mclrney. 'Bitch or Goddess: Polarized Images of Women in Arthurian Literature and Eilms. 153-69. p.' and at the 44th International Congress on Medieval Studies in 2009. ed.' in Lancelot and Guinevere: A Casebook (Routledge. Lisa Robeson. Among the rnany examples of the demonization or marginalization of Guenevere include Roberta L. xiii.' in Popular Arthurian Traditions. Meaning. for instance. 'Are We Enjoying Ourselves? The Place of Pleasure in Medieval Scholarship. . UK: Cambridge University Press. Examples are too numerous to rehearse in full. 45-57].4 (2007): 96-100. and Ann Dobyns. GUENEVERE BURNING 89 Clare Ingham. 'Female Heroes. If she identifies with the feminine identity created by the text. pp.' in On Arthurian Women: Essays in Memory of Maureen Fries.' in The Passing of Arthur: New Essays in Arthurian Tradition. contemporary feminism. p.' Medieval Feminist Newsletter r<.' in Companion to Middle English Romance. see Sarah Stanbury.

In fact. and Lori J.' 251). 31—51. The earlier article on which this chapter is based is even more explicit in this regard. Anne P. 2003). pp.' ARTHURIANA 12. 35-43. .1 (1981): 13-35.'" in On Arthurian Women: Essays in Memory of Maureen Fries.3 (1988): 431 [405-433] defines 'positionality' as 'a gendered subjectivity in relation to concrete habits. 'Women's Time. Rennes. DuBruck (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen.. 'Guinevere as Lord. 1989): p. ed. 252 n. declaring. p. 267—289.3 (Fall 2002): 49-62. 8 Cohen. 'Guenevere's body is not her own.'The Rhetoric of Character. McCracken's complex reading of the French queen details the specific political implications of Guenevere's 'loss of consent' (p. pp. Edelgard E. 9 Julia Kristeva. The New Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2005). 258 [pp. 'Recovering Malory's Guenevere. 42. 1993). John F. and Dorsey Armstrong.' in New Images of Medieval Woman: Essays Toward a Cultural Anthropology. Gender and the Chivalric Community in Malory's Morte d'Arthur (Gainsville: University Press of Florida.' 339—52. This position is therefore 'a place from which meaning can be constructed rather than just discovered' (434)- 7 Jeffrey Jerome Cohen. Walters.' Feminist Approaches to the Body in Medieval Literature. 'Guenevere and the Boys. pp.' in New Images of Medieval Woman. 'Scholars have long viewed the women of medieval literature simply as being imitators of paradigms. 78-115. Those who imagine Guenevere as Lancelot's redeemer include Edv^^ard Donald Kennedy. and discourses' that also takes into account the 'fluidity' of these factors. daughters of Eve or Mary for instance."' (Cohen.' ARTHURIANA 9. Christopher Baswell and William Sharpe (New York: Garland. p.2 (1990): 32 [30—36]. 1988). Shichtman.' in Lancelot and Guinevere: A Casebook (Routledge. Martin B. Kenneth Hodges. July 2007. See also Peggy McCracken. 'Introduction. see Hill. xxxi. 'The Body Politic and the Queen's Adulterous Body in French Romance.90 ARTHURIANA ed.' Signs 13. ed. Medieval Identity Machines. 'Cultural Feminism Versus Post-Structuralism: The Identity Crisis in Feminist Theory.' Presentation at the International Arthurian Society Congress. and Andrew Lynch. 2002). judgment of female characters has all too often been based on how well they fill their paradigmatic roles. 2003). 'Frenzy and Females: Suhject Formation in Opposition to the Other in the Prose Lancelot. 'Guenevere the Enchantress. Longley. 255. Medieval Identity Machines. 'Masoch/Lancelotism.' trans. 35-36). Plummer. Forging Chivalric Communities in Malory's Le Morte Darthur. practices. 'Elaine and Guinevere: Gender and Historical Consciousness in the Middle Ages. Signs 7. Hoffman. p. 255-72]. For more complex readings of the queen. . Alice Jardine and Harry Blake. Linda Lomperis and Sarah Stanbury (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.' 6 Linda Alcoff.' ARTHURIANA 6 (1996): 45-51.' in Lancelot and Guenevere. p. Donald L. xiii-lxxx.she is a "social marker" rather than a "personality. Medieval Cultures 35 (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.51. France. 5 As Shichtman argues in 'Elaine and Guinevere. 'Malory's Guenevere: "A Woman Who Had Grovi^n a Soul. Dohyns.

18 Peter Korrel. Schroeder. in order to try to discover. that meaning is that the queen becomes 'a locus of Lancelot's interpretive memorializing' (p.' Quondam et Euturus 1. Field. The New Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave. ed.2 (Summer 1991): 71 [70—77]. 3d edn. 'Women's Time.' See also Fiona Tolhurst.' For Batt. struggling to define herself.C. 1984). pp. 'The Once and Future Queen: The Development of Cuenevere from Ceoffrey of Monmouth to Malory. argues that 'Being the nexus of the king's public and private roles. in the end. explains: 'The sharpest and most subtle point of feminist subversion brought about by the new generation will henceforth be situated on the terrain of the inseparable conjunction of the sexual and the symbolic. 267-8. 78. compare Hill.' in Lancelot and Guinevere.' Joumal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 32. Brill. 269). who notes that 'Cuenevere is three times threatened with burning' and 'repetition of this motif gains for it a quasi-symbolic resonance. Malory's Morte Darthur: Remaking Arthurian Tradition. 'The Ending o(the Morte Darthur.' PMLA 98.J.S. and the Fifteenth-Century Subject. however. 11 Kristeva. Whetter. Eugène Vinaver. who sees Cuenevere's statement as exposing the way ' [w]ar and love are bound up together into the social construct of honor. see Peter R. [Cuenevere] is. 3 vols. an element of ritualization that asks us to ponder its function and meaning. 'Hidden Depths: Dialogue and Characterization in Chaucer and Malory. GUENEVERE BURNING 91 10 Kristeva. Elizabeth Archibald and A. 169.S.3 (Fall 2009): 123-35.' 12 Virginia Moran. 'Characterization in Malory and Bonnie. queen and marker of the king's sovereignty. Development and Characterization ofArthur. (Oxford: Clarendon Press. C.. P. 1990).' He sees her conversion and retreat to a nunnery as 'an abdication. spouse and symbolic representative of the people's marriage to the king. p.' ARTHURIANA 19.S. UK: D. the specificity of the female. 'Recovering Malory's Cuenevere. 'The Invisible Spouse: Henry VT. 'Elaine and Cuenevere. at once. 1996). 221-38. 17 Thomas A. 15 All references to Malory are from The Works of Sir Thomas Malory. An Arthurian Triangle: A Study of the Origin. For a few examples. 2002).3 (May 1983): 374—387.' 21. failed completely. not only of authority but of responsibility as well' (p. that of each individual woman. Prendergast. Brewer.' . 13 The complex interiority of Malory's characters is a continuing theme in Arthurian criticism. Edwards (Cambridge.' in New Images of Medieval Woman. and K. Guinevere and Mordred {Luàen: E. in most senses. and then.J. Arthur. p. 19 However. 14 Shichtman. rev. 268. 3 vols. first. 'Malory/Guenevere: Sexuality as Deconstruction.2 (2002): 306 [305-326]. and she knows it.' in A Companion to Malory..' 33. but his prognosis is grim: He argues that Cuenevere 'has.G. 16 See also Catherine Batt. 221. 'Women's Time. 173). p. ed. David Benson.' Bibliographical Bulletin of the Intemational Arthurian Society 50 (1998): 295—96 [272-308]. p. also reads Cuenevere as a dynamic character.

añer all. See Dobyns.' in Lancelot and Guinevere. 11-34].' in A Companion to Malory p. and Peter R. 'The Ending of the Morte Darthur.' This seems to me at odds. Katen Ghetewatuk. 2006). My categorization of her character is not intended to be as negative as it sounds—I agree with Sklar's assessment of Elaine as a dynamic charactet—but I suggest that her positionality differs greatly from Guenevere's as queen and wife. She began the episode. UK: D. p. by telling Lancelot not to stay with her. 59-70]. 199-226].' On Arthurian Women: Essays in Memory of Maureen Eries. Brewer. 140. of Elaine's love for Lancelot. 59 [pp. 27 [pp. with their profoundly intimate knowledge of one another's nocturnal quirks. 27 On Malory's sympathy for Guenevere in this episode. 28 Kristeva.2 (Summer 2006): 80-82 [78-83]. 'Haunting Pieties: Malory's Use of Chivalric Christian Exempla Afi:er the Grail. See also John Michael Walsh. 'Back from the Queste: Maloty's Launcelot Enrages Gwenyvere. Parry. 180.' 'changeable. 1985). 'The Once and Future Queen.' and 'temperamental'. 'Women's Time.' whereas Guenevere is described as vulnerable and 'terribly touched'. 23 Kristeva. 'Malory's "Very Mater of Le Chevalier du Charyot": Chatacterization and Sttucture."' in On Arthurian Women: Essays in Memory of Maureen Eries. who calls her 'difficult. 'Women's Time. what Kristeva might call her role in the 'sociosymbolic contract' as a 'sactificial contract.' 21. Schroeder. David Benson. see Joseph D. and Lnheritance in Malory's Morte Darthur (Cambridge. argues that Lancelot and Guenevere are still chaste at this point. 'Following Malory out of Arthut's World.if not the passion.' 19. p. 25 She is. and Tolhurst. 'The Rhetotic of Character.' 25. Adultery. howevet. 70. and it is not . irrational and feminine. 21 Armstrong. p. 'Hidden Depths. Spisak (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications. Hodges. 24 Beverly Kennedy. and that their erotic encounter in Mellyagaunt's castle is their one 'regrettable lapse from chastity.' ARTHURIANA 16. 'Recovering Malory's Guenevere.92 ARTHURIANA 20 That is. also notes Elaine's attention to pragmatic wifely duty in this speech. see Kenneth Hodges. 22 Alan Gaylord.' 299. 273-75. 29 Others intetptet this episode as a divide between Guenevete's public and private personas.S. 205-206 [pp. p. also believes that Guenevere is 'changing more deeply.' 'Women's Time.' 374-75. 'Malory's Guinevere: A "Trew Lover.2 (Nov. C.' ARTHURIANA 17.' Modern Philology 95.2 (2007): 35-36 [28-48]. by default. James W. Likewise. thereby requiring altered negotiations of selfhood and concepts of love. in Marriage. p. p. ed. who argues for the purity andfidelity. 'confined by her femininity' (17)- 26 Elizabeth Sklar calls Elaine 'a remarkably successful manipulator' of the patriarchal system in 'Malory's Other(ed) Elaine. For defenses of Guenevere. 223. Eorging Chivalric Communities.' 347.' in Studies in Malory. Gender and the Chivalric Community. as Leah Haught says of the Awntyrs' Guenevere. 1997): 147-69. categorizes Lancelot as using 'masculine logic' and being 'very male. p. see Hill.

'demassification of the problem of difference' implies shattering constructions of sexual difference in order to rebuild personal identity. Le Séminaire. 39 Marguerite Poret. Bruce Fink. vols (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies. IN: University of Notre Dame Press. 2007). she will refiise Lancelot's proposal in favor of a nunnery. 'Women's Time. MI: Western Michigan University. and Cherewatuk. The expanded version of her description can be' found on p. 'Divine Love or Loving Divinely?: The Ending of Malory's Morte Darthur^ ARTHURIANA 16.' 34. see Armstrong. The Mirror of Simple Souls. LivreXX. 191. see Jane Chance. after Arthur's death. ed.'Guiding Lights: Feminine Judgement and Wisdom in Malory's Morte Darthur.3 (2009): 39-40 [34-42].C. The Literary Subversions of Medieval Women. Marier and Judith Grant (Notre Dame. 37 Lacan. Le Séminaire. The New Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Julian of Norwich. Gender and the Chivalric Community. p. Mickey Sweeney. 1988). 36 Cf.' 33 For a description of Lacan's Law as symbolic pact that 'superimposes the reign of culture over the reign of nature. ed. 'Malory and the Common Law: Hasty Jougement in the "Tale of the Death of King Arthur. p. GG.' 30 For Lancelot as Guenevere's agent.' 34. LivreXX: Encore (Paris: Seuil. see this spiritual transformation as a renunciation of passion and desire. 35 Moran. pp. Encore ip/2-ip/j. Lynn Staley (Kalamazoo. 2002).2 (2006): j^jjG {7^-77). p. and Lnheritance. Margery Kempe. Jacques Alain-Miller (New York: Norton. 64-77. 1996). 31 For Arthur's own internal predicament here. 1978). p. ed. Edmund CoUedge and James Walsh. Kelly. see Ecrits. Marriage. 7G.' ARTHURIANA 19. 2. Book XX. ç. Adultery.77.' 313-15. 'Women's Time. J. . 1975). trans. Translations from On Feminine Sexuality the Limits of Love and Knowledge: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. 1999).' 75. Bruce Fink (New York and London: Norton. trans. 128. 32 See Roberr L. 38 Lacan. A Book of Showings to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich. 71. see Prendergast. 43 For Porete's concept of the Annihilated Soul as specifically feminine. Kelly deconstructs the charge of treason to suggest the king's rashness and inappropriate behavior in ways that accord with Lancelot's accusation that the queen was to burn 'in your heat. who sees Guenevere's harsh words as punishment for Lancelot's sins and an abandonment of the love for which he sacrificed everything. GUENEVERE BURNING 93 too much larer that. 34 According to Kristeva.' signified in the Name of the Father and solidifying kinship relations. 42 Janet Jesmok. The Book of Margery Kempe. p.' 34. 40 Kristeva. 41 Kristeva. 86 of this article. 'The Invisible Spouse. 'Sexuality as Deconstruction. 'Women's Time.'" Medievalia et Humanistica 22 (1995): 111-40. trans.

Medieval Identity Machines. 'Stabat Mater. provides a compelling reading of Margery Kempe in particular as having composed a text that violates proscribed boundaries.' in The Kristeva Reader. pp.160-86). p.154-87.94 ARTHURIANA 44 Kristeva. 1986). . Toril Moi (New York: Columbia University Press.i8i (pp. 45 Cohen. ed.

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