Essay on Solitude in Marie de France's Lanval

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Solitude in Marie de France's Lanval

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
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This depiction of Lanval, as an individual who exists separate from society, continues as he “one day mounted his horse / and went off to amuse himself. / He left the city and came, all alone, to a field” (41-44). Marie’s stressing of the phrase “all alone” in this passage, as well as Lanval’s necessary quitting the city in order to amuse himself, further highlight his physical solitude. In fact, the account of Lanval’s “horse tremble[ing] badly” (46) after his journey attests to the physical distance Lanval has put between himself and the Arthurian world as his horse is exhausted from the long ride. It is only in this state of isolation that he is able to establish contact with his beloved. Her maids appear to him while he lies, without even his horse’s company, by the bank. Therefore, it appears that Lanval’s physical solitude facilitates the development of his relationship with the fairie queen, as the text’s emphasis on such isolation suggests that their meeting would not have occurred under different circumstances. Accordingly, such an encounter could not have transpired within the Arthurian world where knights and ladies are seen, throughout the text, to be constantly grouping together and bringing their companions with them everywhere, in part to “amuse

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