115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Amazed & Ravished in the Medieval Garden: The Space of Lesbian Desire

Michelle M. Sauer, University of North Dakota

I will demonstrate how the female narrators in The Floure and the Leafe and The Assembly of Ladies use spatial constructs to create a gendered concept of desire. In particular, the Floure narrator relies upon natural spaces (topography), while the Assembly narrator relies upon artificial spaces (architecture). In each, the result is the formation of a lesbian space in which the narrators can explore female-female desire before ultimately being reabsorbed into the dominant (heterosexual) society.

Proposal: 

My presentation will explore the rhetorical construction of lesbian space within two fifteenth century, Middle English dream visions with female narrators, The Floure and the Leafe and The Assembly of Ladies. Both poems engage broadly with the theme of female steadfastness and endurance versus male falseness and neglect; however, that is only one layer of interpretation. I will demonstrate how the female narrators in The Floure and the Leafe and The Assembly of Ladies use spatial constructs to create a gendered concept of desire. In particular, the Floure narrator relies upon natural spaces (topography), while the Assembly narrator relies upon artificial spaces (architecture). In each, the result is the formation of a lesbian space in which the narrators can explore female-female desire before ultimately being reabsorbed into the dominant (heterosexual) society.

 

Through their spatial details, particularly activities within the garden mazes, these two dream visions demonstrate the danger of unchecked female, possibly lesbian, desire. Each poem contributes a unique female narrator to a genre dominated by male authors and narrators, allowing space for the development of female desire without giving way to a space of sexual excess. Indeed, Assembly is about pursuing desire, while Floure is about containing it. In highlighting these developments, however, each poem also reaffirms the existing patriarchal power structure, and, ultimately, upholds proper heterosexual behavior, whether the choice is marriage or virginity.

 

My presentation will be informed primarily by spatial and gender theories, especially space syntax and performance architecture. Paired with place attachment, space syntax examines topology and the analysis of natural movement (the proportion of movement determined by the space itself, such as the garden mazes in these dream visions), while performance architecture works towards establishing a vocabulary to complicate the distinction between occupying subjects and occupied objects. Thus, the narrator’s rhetorical constructions of space combined with the ritual performance of the dream vision genre, as well as the actual material circumstances (e.g. the garden mazes) develop the desiring female subject, an elaborate, multi-layered construct, and a “spatial code,” or rhetorical system. In the dream vision world, reality, space, place, and occupant become almost interchangeable.

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