LUCIA SIMPSON SHEN, University of Pennsylvania


Most surviving Old French epics, or chansons de geste, were produced during the century between 1150 and 1250, with a peak of creative activity around the year 1200. Themes that were central to the earliest chansons de geste were generally abandoned in favor of a plot featuring the adventures of a young nobleman who--typically--is exiled through treachery or misfortune, wins fame, arms, and a bride in the service of a king, and returns to his homeland to win back his land and re-establish his family's place in the social order. An emphasis on land and family--the hero's lignage--distinguishes these epics from tales of young heroes in other epic traditions and in the roman courtois. Such chansons de geste, which can be described as the enfances, or youthful adventures, of the hero, have received little scholarly attention despite their numbers and their considerable influence abroad. This study deals with fifty-six such epics. Chapter I, a reference section, provides a detailed summary of each epic, as well as information on editions, important critical studies, date of composition, and foreign versions. Chapter II, "The Enfances Epic as a Literary Trend," considers their chronological distribution, foreign translations as an index of popularity, and the extent of cyclical relationships. Chapter III, "Characteristic Themes of the Enfances Epics," describes typical plot elements and their most common variants. Chapter IV, "The Question of the Audience," examines the historical context of these poems for clues to their popularity. Recent studies in medieval social history reveal the existence in France, from the mid-twelfth century on, of a growing number of footloose young warriors from various social classes, who sought knighthood, land, and marriage at court or in foreign adventure. The enfances epics present a romanticized version of the concerns of these young men, while appealing to a general audience. The chapter ends with a brief look at the historical background of enfances epics from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, which differ in several respects from earlier ones.

Subject Area

Literature|Middle Ages

Recommended Citation

SHEN, LUCIA SIMPSON, "THE OLD-FRENCH 'ENFANCES' EPICS AND THEIR AUDIENCE" (1982). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI8227315.