Objectification, Empowerment, and the Male Gaze in the Lanval Corpus

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Elizabeth S. Leet University of Virginia esl8ck@virginia.edu

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Each tale in the Lanval corpus revolves around fairy women who style their bodies specifically to attract the male gaze. Each fairy uses her body’s visual impact to seduce her lover and resolve the judicial accusations against him. By adapting her body for private audiences, public parades, and even non-noble onlookers, each fairy participates actively in the gaze both to gain her respective lover’s freedom and to win the man of her choosing. The Lanval tales reveal women who submit to be analyzed and objectified in order to satisfy their lover’s wish along with their own goals. Additionally, Sir Landevale and Sir Launfal expand descriptions of the ladies, mirroring the increase in the number of people who assess them at the Arthurian trial. By examining the increasing volume of attire and decreasing interaction with animals across the adaptations, we see these poets problematize the overlap between objectification and empowerment.

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