Pub DateApril 19, 2003
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Beasts of Love: Richard de Fournival’s Bestiaire d’amour and a Woman’s ‘Response’

Jeanette Beer
University of Toronto Press

The first gendered prose debate in a European vernacular, Le Bestiaire d’amour and subsequent Response constitute a clash of opposites: a medieval chancellor’s erotic bestiary to a woman is countered by the woman’s passionate protest against the cleric’s misogynistic presuppositions. Jeanette Beer presents a close, linear reading of the two literary texts, examining the context that led to the love-bestiary’s production in the thirteenth century, especially an influential version of the Physiologus by Pierre de Beauvais, the suggestiveness of the animal symbolism, and the aftermath of the debate.

In her exploration of Le Bestiaire d’amour and the Response, Beer analyzes the disparity of their sexual, philosophical, and theological orientations, and considers, animal by animal, this gendered duelling of the two bestiaries, the symbolism of the one calqued upon the symbolism of the other. Largely neglected for seven hundred years, Le Bestiaire d’amour and the Response address issues that are universally relevant: male and female expectations in love, sexual dominance, sexual exploitation, and female strategies for self-preservation in a society where women were powerless and vulnerable.

About the Author

Jeanette Beer is a professor emerita and a senior member of Lady Margaret Hall and St Hilda’s College, at Oxford University.