(S)he’s just not that into you: Resisting Love in Medieval Romance Literature

The word ‘romance’ conjures images of men and women meeting one another and falling helplessly in love. But if we trace the literature of ‘romance’ back to its roots in the medieval period, we encounter many stories where chivalric knights and ladies refuse or fail to conform to convention. Hannah Piercy takes us on a tour through some of this historic writing of the heart – though she starts with an example that is much closer to home.

How do we get to a happy ending? This podcast explores how a happy ending is achieved in medieval romance literature, examining how the paths that lead us towards the happy ending can be problematic. In particular, it focuses on the issue of how rejecting a lover is resolved in the happy ending of a romance. How does a romance achieve a happy ending, when one of its protagonists is not interested in love? Is this lack of interest overcome, and if so how? And can we really talk of a happy ending at all, if the paths that lead us there involve what can at best be described as obtaining consent, but at worst overcoming resistance to love through means that border on threats, bribery, and force?

All of these questions are explored in this podcast, which also provides a brief overview of medieval romance literature, a genre popular in Western Europe from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries. Hannah’s talk focuses on the similarities and differences between male and female rejections of love in medieval romance, not simply to argue that the necessity of love is treated and achieved differently for male and female characters, but to explore some of the subtle nuances that exist in representations of men and women’s reluctance to love, as well as some of the major and perhaps surprising similarities. Rejecting love can empower both men and women, but it can also lead to threats, bribery, and violence being inflicted upon both sexes – although this violence is focused disproportionately on women. Although Hannah’s lecture focuses mostly on attitudes resisting love in medieval romance literature, she also argues that these medieval texts still influence our thinking about the necessity of love and its portrayal in popular novels and films today.

From snake women to Islamic mythology, the beginnings of sound film to the burning of Shakespeare’s globe, Late Summer Lectures 2018 explored the theme of ‘Beginnings and Endings’ in literature.

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