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The two Elaines and their fathers: Malory’s (dis)obedient daughters
Halmstad University, School of Education, Humanities and Social Science, Centrum för lärande, kultur och samhälle (CLKS), Språk, kultur och samhälle.
2018 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation only (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Malory’s two Elaines, of Carbonek and of Astolat, are generally noted for their love for Lancelot, in both cases unrequited and in one case fatal. However, I am interested here in their positions as daughters, and how their sexuality is explicitly portrayed as under patriarchal control.

The sexuality of both Elaines is under the control of their fathers, and, to some extent, other male family members. However, as daughters they are dissimilar: Elaine of Carbonek is obedient to patriarchal control, Elaine of Astolat disobedient.

In the case of Elaine of Carbonek, she is explicitly told to seduce the drugged Lancelot, in order to conceive Galahad. Having her partner selected by her father, without much consultation of her own desires, is, of course, not an exceptional situation in a text written in 1469, the only exceptional circumstances being the absence of a wedding. While the intercourse is fornication, and in Lancelot’s case, rape, these aspects are ignored in favour of the greater good served by Galahad’s conception.

Elaine of Astolat, on the other hand, makes the choice to approach Lancelot with a request to be his wife, and, on being refused, wants to be his lover. Lancelot’s responds with horror at the thought of abusing his hosts’ hospitality by having sex with the virgin daughter of the house. Here, too, patriarchal control over the daughter’s (and sister’s) sexuality is obvious: Lancelot, while a faithful lover to Guinevere, to which he can hardly admit, seems not so much to reject Elaine of Astolat for his own reasons, but genuinely distressed at the thought of how he would treat her male family members by acquiescing.

How, then are the actions of the two daughter – one obedient, one disobedient – portrayed? Elaine of Carbonek appears in the text as a perfect daughter: obedient, faithful to Lancelot, even willing to challenge Guinevere for him. She gives birth to a son who becomes the best knight in the world; while his lineage from Lancelot – and, through him, from Jesus – is clearly part of his natural ability as a knight, Malory’s text largely subscribes to good children coming from morally pure mothers. The lack of a morally pure mother results in a morally corrupt child; Elaine of Carbonek, as the mother of Galahad, must be completely pure. The rape of Lancelot, who never consents to sex with Elaine, is either seen as irrelevant or blamed on Elaine’s father.

Elaine of Astolat, on the other hand, dies for her unrequited love for Lancelot. It has been argued by Reynolds that her death should not be seen as a good death, as she defends her right to think of Lancelot even on her deathbed. She is the disobedient daughter, willing to offer herself as lover to a man who will not marry her, subverting the whole patriarchal system of women given in exchange between men. Her death implies that her love is excessive, and that independence can be fatal.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2018.
Keywords [en]
Malory, gender
National Category
Languages and Literature
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hh:diva-38512OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hh-38512DiVA, id: diva2:1268827
Conference
Arthurian Women. Mothers, Lovers and Others, Nordic Branch of the International Arthurian Society, Trondheim, Norway, 13-14 September, 2018
Available from: 2018-12-06 Created: 2018-12-06 Last updated: 2018-12-17Bibliographically approved

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Hildebrand, Kristina

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CiteExportLink to record
Permanent link

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Citation style
  • apa
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