Chrétien de Troyes’s medieval romances are very important for the evolution of French and European literature. Thanks to Chrétien, the quest of adventure and love at King Arthur’s time becomes for centuries the subject par excellence of romance.

Chrétien is not only a poet, but also a moralist and almost a casuist of courtly love. This is the point the lecture will try to emphasize by a reading of his first romance, Erec et Enide (c. 1170).

The title “Sense and Sensuality” alludes to Jane Austen’s famous novel, Sense and Sensibility. In this novel, Sense refers to reasonable Eleanor’s good sense and Sensibility to romantic Marianne’s rash infatuation. But every reader of Erec and Enide understands for a start Sense as “meaning”: the sense of the romance. However Sense, in this romance, may also refer to good sense and reason, not so much opposed to Sensuality than blended with Sensuality.

Our reading of the romance will start from the two following observations:

Erec and Enide is clearly a romance about love between husband and wife, even if it is not what we usually expect from courtly love. Such a topic is not so frequent in World literature, still less so in French literature; there are many novels about adultery, but very few about matrimonial love.

According to Chrétien, strong, true and long-lasting love between husband and wife is based both on sense (reason) and sensuality, but not on sensibility. That is the sense (meaning) of his romance. 

Michel Zink

Michel Zink, born in 1945, is a professor of French and Occitan medieval literature at the Collège de France since 1994. Since 2000, he is a member of and, since 2011, also the eternal secretary of the Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres (Institut de France). After his studies at the Ecole normale supérieure (Paris) and at the Sorbonne (1964-1968), he graduated in classics in 1967. He then became assistant professor at the Sorbonne-Paris 4 (1968-1976), professor at the University of Toulouse-Le Mirail (1976-1987) and at the Sorbonne-Paris 4 (1987-1994). He has been a visiting professor or guest lecturer at many American, European and Japanese universities. In 2007, he won the Balzan prize. He is also an Officer of the Légion d’honneur and Commander of the Palmes académiques, two distinguished French orders. As author of about twenty-five books and editor of about twenty books on medieval literature, principally religious literature, troubadour’s poetry and literary theory, he has also founded the series of pocket books “Lettres gothiques “ (Livre de Poche, Hachette). He is now a director of this collection, which publishes medieval literary texts in Ancient and Middle French with a translation in modern French. He has also written some novels and tales.