“Lanval” Marie De France: Challenging Norms in Anglo-Norman Literature

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“Lanval” Marie De France: Challenging Norms in Anglo-Norman Literature

Marie de France’s “Lanval” is a significant work in Anglo-Norman literature that challenges social and gender norms of its time. This overview explores how the narrative subverts traditional medieval roles, especially through its portrayal of women and the concept of chivalry. It delves into the character of Lanval, a knight whose fortunes are reversed by a fairy mistress, and how this relationship defies feudal expectations. The piece also examines the themes of loyalty, love, and societal judgment, and how “Lanval” serves as a critique of contemporary courtly life and its values. PapersOwl showcases more free essays that are examples of Gender.

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Introduction to “Lanval” by Marie De France: A Summary of Traditional Gender Roles Reversed

In fairy tales like “Cinderella” no matter what the plot is, there is always a damsel in distress who needs rescuing from a man. These were the traditional gender roles that most characters followed. However, the same cannot be said about “Lanval,” where the identities of men and women are reversed. The story “Lanval,” written by Marie De France, portrays the theme of love through a socially isolated, subversive world where conventional gender roles are both persistently challenged and reversed.

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This challenges the norms of Anglo-Normans by portraying Lanval as the womanly character and the fairy woman as the stereotypical man.

Lanval’s Isolation and Attraction to the Fairy Woman: A Detailed Account

In the story, Lanval, a knight who is strong and attractive, is unappreciated by King Arthur, and “none of his men favored him either. For his valor, for his generosity, his beauty, and his bravery, most men envied him”. This leads Lanval to feel isolated until he meets a mysterious fairy woman who says, “Sweet love, because of you I have come from my land; I came to seek you from far away”. Lanval instantly felt “love [sting] him with a spark that burned and set fire to his heart”. The unnamed fairy tells Lanval that he can have her as long as he never tells anyone about their relationship or “[he] would lose [the fairy] for good if this love were known; you would never see [the fairy woman] again”. But when Lanval travels back to his city, the Queen falsely accuses him of attempting to seduce her, resulting in the fairy woman being the only one who can save Lanval from being killed at trial.

Analysis of Gender Roles in “Lanval”: Lanval’s Dependence and the Fairy’s Dominance

In Anglo-Saxon and Norman history, males were traditionally expected to be strong, brave, self-sufficient, and a member of the brotherhood. For example, in “Beowulf,” the main character is outgoing, courageous, and so strong that he is able to defeat Grendel and his mother. Beowulf also maintains a good relationship with his subjects and the people of high/royal descent. However, Lanval lacks independence and wealth and is not liked by Arthur or the other knights. Throughout the story, Lanval continues to be absent of self-independence even when he and his lady are together. When Lanval was “dressed in rich clothes; there he wasn’t a more handsome youth in all the world; he was no fool, no boor”. This represents how dependent Lanval came to rely on his lady. His lady would provide and support Lanval with every basic necessity. In their relationship, he was often under the rule of the fairy. For example, “he took supper with his love; it was not to be refused”. This displays the submissiveness of Lanval as a character in this role-reversal story. In my opinion, Lanval acts as a failed stereotypical male, and the sense of masculinity that most Anglo-Norman characters hold is absent.

Empowerment of Women and Conclusion: A Reflection on Marie De France’s “Lanval”

When looking at females in Anglo-Norman history, they are stereotypically expected to be dependent on others and helpless, especially if that female lacks attractiveness and the protection of a male. However, this is quite the opposite for the mysterious fairy woman who is completely independent, wealthy, and described as insanely beautiful. Stereotypically, it would be the man who lures woman with wealth and gifts, however in “Lanval,” the fairy gives “[Lanval] a gift: he would never again want anything, he would receive as he desired; however generously he might give and spend, she would provide what he needed”. This illustrates the assertion of the fairy woman’s power in the relationship, a power that most women didn’t have with men. The fairy woman symbolizes a modern representation of empowerment for women by having cliched character traits that a man would have. This unnamed fairy is a representation of a subtle play against gender norms. When the fairy fails to mention her identity (name), it illustrates that she requires no title or social status to exercise her dominance over male characters.


In conclusion, De France challenges gender roles in a dominated patriarchal society. This dynamic, where the females have total control over a male, reverses the roles that both genders play in their society. The fairy has the power in the relationship, turning the heroic knight, Lanval, into the damsel in distress. This illustrates the reversed dynamic of the stereotypical gender roles in Anglo-Norman literature. The reversed roles stay true throughout the entire story. Even when they ride off, Lanval “leaped in one bound, onto the palfrey, behind her”. In my opinion, this story is a male version of Cinderella, where Lanval is socially isolated, dependent on the fairy for wealth, happiness, and for her to rescue him. As a young woman in modern society, it’s nice to see De France, a female author, write a story about the empowerment of a nonconventional hero being played by a woman.


  1. De France, Marie. “Lanval.” In “The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Middle Ages,” edited by Stephen Greenblatt et al., 10th ed., Vol. A, 154-166. W.W. Norton & Company, 2018.

  2. Grigsby, John L. “Gender Roles in Medieval Society.” 

  3. Shakespeare, William. “Beowulf.” 

  4. Moi, Toril. “Gender and Genre.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, edited by Vincent B. Leitch et al., 2nd ed., 1563-1574. W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.

  5. Butler, Judith. “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory.” Theatre Journal, vol. 40, no. 4, 1988, pp. 519-531. 

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"Lanval" Marie De France: Challenging Norms in Anglo-Norman Literature. (2023, Aug 04). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/lanval-marie-de-france-challenging-norms-in-anglo-norman-literature/