Mirrored Voices: The Rhetoric of Experientiality in Medieval Literature

Tutkimustuotos: VäitöskirjaMonograph


The dissertation investigates the rhetoric of experientiality in medieval literature. Derived from cognitive narratology, the term experientiality refers in the study to a) fictional consciousness representation, b) the impression created by narrative texts of an embodied presence reacting to the told on the level of the telling, and c) the cultural and literary background shared by authors and audiences that is made use of in the texts’ consciousness representation. What kind of functions does the description of medieval characters’ inner experiences perform? Who, or what, is eventually described, when medieval texts relate their characters’ joys, fears and heartbreaks? The research questions are answered with a contextualising approach which brings together modern narratology and medieval poetics influenced by classical rhetoric.

A central area of inquiry in multidisciplinary narrative research, consciousness representation has been dominated by two notable theoretical approaches: the linguistics-based approach, which seeks to categorise thought based on the level of directness, and which is traceable to ancient literary criticism, has in recent years been supplemented by cognitively oriented frameworks modelling different aspects of narrative on certain real-life parameters. Both perspectives have been applied in previous research to the representation of characters’ thoughts, perceptions and emotions in medieval narrative. However, the dissertation takes as its point of departure the observation that these theoretical models, derived principally from the modern novel, do not completely manage to cover the nature of consciousness representation in medieval literature, which leans heavily on the rhetorical tradition, favours oral-aural transmission and essentially recycles the story material.

This hypothesis is tested in the study through a close reading of three canonical texts from the High and Late Middle Ages, representing different linguistic regions and based around the genre of romance. Heldris of Cornwall’s Le Roman de Silence (ca. 1270–80), Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde (ca. 1380–87) and Giovanni Boccaccio’s Elegia di madonna Fiammetta (ca. 1343–44) are placed in the text-specific analysis chapters in a double perspective formed by narratology and medieval poetics, with the intention of thus illuminating the texts’ narrative strategies of consciousness from the perspective of their own era, and at the same time to illustrate the limited historical scope of the dominant paradigms of consciousness representation. Since the results obtained are based on a small corpus of texts, the dissertation does not seek to develop a systematic poetics defining the exact principles governing the medieval representation of experiencing minds, but rather presents its tentative readings of the case studies as proposals whose generalisability can subsequently be assessed in medieval texts of different genres from different linguistic regions.

The dissertation argues that the representation of consciousness in the case studies is centrally concerned with the rhetorically inspired involvement of the audience’s perspective, which is also linked in the study to the oral performance of medieval narrative and the act of portraying and generating emotional states through the human voice. The analyses demonstrate that the depictions of characters’ emotions, thoughts and perceptions make conscious and varied use of the audiences’ experience as human beings in the text-external world, on the one hand, and as connoisseurs of recycled story material, on the other. The first analysis chapter (Chapter I; Le Roman de Silence) focuses on experientialising rhetoric consisting of narratorial commentary, which, instead of characters’ consciousness, models and shapes the audience’s emotional reactions, and which constructs the characters’ minds in a self-consciously conventional manner, while also re-negotiating them in collaboration with the audience. The second analysis chapter (Chapter II; Troilus and Criseyde) examines repetition and frequency as narrative devices of manipulation creating the effect of inevitability with regard to certain conventional emotional patterns. The final analysis chapter (Chapter III; Elegia di madonna Fiammetta) analyses coercive narration, which demands the audience to unconditionally share the narrator-protagonist’s view according to which her experience of falling in love is solitary and unique. These narrative strategies are read in relation to the re-definition of the role of the medieval author against auctores and the literary tradition that has been argued was taking place from the twelfth century onwards. It is suggested that the case studies push the limits of time-honoured, cumulative experiences of literary characters, while encouraging the recipients of these narratives to practice critical reading which does not unquestioningly adopt any viewpoints offered as givens.

In addition to underlining the role of the audience, the dissertation proposes that the case studies underline the nature of the characters’ minds as consciously layered, communal and exhibitory artefacts by writers well-versed in poetics. In Chapter I, the man-made, fabricated nature of the characters’ minds is illustrated by analysing the use of figurative language focusing on composition and reception as a means of conveying the characters’ experiences. Chapter II shows how the characters’ ostensibly private experience is made to loop back to the author and tradition through metaleptic echoing strategies and muddling the discursive structures which lead to anticipate direct discourse; in this chapter, the medieval manuscript culture serves as another contextualising factor which aids to see how manuscript methods of speech marking, very different from the modern system of punctuation, open up pathways of interpretation that can radically diverge from the readings based on modern printed editions and the theoretical frameworks for consciousness representation. Likewise, Chapter III challenges one of the central concepts of narratological research, the unreliable narrator, by reading the conventional signs of narratorial unreliability not as indications of a troubled psyche, but as a game of interpretation between author and audience, one that is defined by the deliberate, author-revealing transparency of the narrator’s discourse, and which leans on readerly familiarity with rhetoric, poetics and the conventional elements of the literary experience of loving.

The outcome of the study suggests that the three case studies frame the characters’ minds as allegories of composition and reading. The texts tend to sideline the characters’ experiences in favour of depicting the construction of those experiences: instead of representing the characters’ minds, the focus turns to their processual generation in the act of narration. The study thus re-evaluates the psychological dimension of medieval romance that has been said to anticipate the modern novel. Instead of a naturalising method of reading, it is productive to consider the experiencing minds of medieval literature as functional, self-consciously artificial and communal creations which expose their own conventionalism and serve as platforms for negotiating thematic, didactic and literary historical questions.
KustantajaTampere University
ISBN (elektroninen)978-952-03-1967-0
ISBN (painettu)978-952-03-1966-3
TilaJulkaistu - 2021
OKM-julkaisutyyppiG4 Monografiaväitöskirja


NimiTampere University Dissertations - Tampereen yliopiston väitöskirjat
ISSN (painettu)2489-9860
ISSN (elektroninen)2490-0028


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