Reading Classics: The Lais by Marie de France
I read this book as part of the Classics Club Challenge – I challenged myself to read fifty classics picked by me in the next three years. To find out more, you can see my list or visit the Classics Club website.
Title: The Lais
Author: Marie de France
First Publication: 1200
The Lais is a collection of twelve fairy-tale short stories, written in the twelfth to thirteenth century by a Frenchwoman called Marie. The short stories have different subjects, one of them featuring King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table, others for example explaining the name of a certain place.
The Lais is a quick read – some stories are about twenty pages, others only five. They all have to do something with love, courtly love to be precise. Starting with the good, I quite liked the writing style. It’s very clean and to the point. Like with all medieval fiction there is no modern deposition to describe everything, but Marie’s characters are surprisingly individualistic . Since they’re fairy-tales they’re described in superlatives: every woman is the prettiest, the most pious, the best mannered girl in the world. It was nice that plenty of women were also described as clever, smart, sensible.
That being said, I didn’t really like the way basically every single one of this story is about cheating. Apparently it’s fine to cheat as long as you’re in love with someone in a very courtly way. They all promise each other fidelity. Uh, hello, you were already married?! The themes in the stories were not of much interest to me, and I think I prefer the more adventure kind of stories over medieval love stories.