Societal Spheres: Reconstructing Gender through Romance
For centuries, people have been captivated by tales of questing knights, fair ladies, and magical encounters. As someone who grew up immersed in the fantasy genre, transitioning from the Brian Jacques Redwall series as a child to George R.R. Martin's A Song of lce and Fire as an adult, I always wondered how such escapism into distant fantasy worlds could be so relatable to my life. When investigating the history of the source material, I found that chivalric romances have been crafted to suit various audiences and purposes, providing sociopolitical commentary throughout the literary eras. In this thesis, I investigate the impact of the chivalric romance on medieval, Victorian, and contemporary culture by exploring Chrétien de Troyes' twelfth-century romances Erec and Enide and Lancelot, Heldris de Comualle's thirteenth-century Le Roman de Silence, Matthew Arnold's nineteenth-century Tristram and Iseult, and George R.R. Martin's twenty-first-century A Song of lce and Fire. Using a feminist theoretical framework, I highlight how these authors interwove social commentary with gender expectations. What I found the most fascinating is that despite being separated by centuries, these authors (and their listening and reading audiences) grappled with similar philosophical questions on gender and the societal roles that still resonate today. The treatment of such topics in romance is one reason why the chivalric romance has endured from the twelfth into the twenty-first century.