The Eternal Joust of Parents and Adult Children in Thirteenth-Century French Saints’ Lives

Stull, Tiffany, French - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Ogden, Amy, Department of French Language and Literatures, University of Virginia

Thirteenth-century French saints’ Lives often depict conflict between the saintly protagonists and their parents, who either intentionally or accidentally work to disrupt their children’s higher calling. In general, critics who have studied saints’ parents have tended to treat them as interpreters of the saints’ actions. The saints are so perfect, it is difficult to imitate them directly. Thus, the parents imitate their children, and because the parents are less perfect examples than the saints, they show audiences what the saints do that the audiences can imitate. Nonetheless, these parents may also be seen as exemplary in their own right, especially in Lives where abusive parents serve as negative examples. The texts show that even these wicked parents try to do what they believe is best for their children, and they are somewhat sympathetic. The fictional parents are concerned about issues of lineage and inheritance – major issues for noble families in the thirteenth century. The Lives depict forms of secular family as positive; they do not suggest that the children’s choice to abandon worldly life, “wed” God, and form a descendance of Christian followers is necessarily the type of family that their audiences should aspire to have. In this study, I examine La Vie sainte Juliane, Gautier de Coinci’s Vie de sainte Cristine, and Li Roumans de saint Alessin to see how they explore questions of the parents’ motives, how sympathetic the parents are, and various family structures. I demonstrate that although at first glance, these Lives may seem to portray conflict between parents and their adult children as dichotomous, the texts actually depict complex, ambiguous relationships between family members and God. Furthermore, the texts valorize loving and disciplining children in moderation, and obeying and respecting one’s parents.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
thirteenth-century, medieval literature, saint's Life, saints' Lives, saint Juliana, sainte Juliane, saint Christine, sainte Cristine, Gautier de Coinci, saint Alexis, saint Alessins, parents, parent-child conflict, medieval marriage, family conflict, medieval family, Middle Ages, French, Anglo-Norman, saint Alessin, Vie de saint Alexis, Roumans de saint Alessin, Vie de sainte Cristine, Vie sainte Juliane, Vie de sainte Juliane, saint Christina, sainte Christine, family law, Church law, Church marriage law, Old French, adult children, marital conflict, marriage conflict, romance
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