Henry Adams to Georges Duby: missing history of medieval gender

Georges Duby, who lived from 1919 to 1996, was “a grand master among medieval social historians.” He issued an intellectual autobiography in 1991 via the prestigious, woman-run publisher Éditions Odile Jacob. That book, like Duby’s major works on medieval women and gender, makes no mention of Henry Adams’s extraordinary Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, first privately printed in 1904. Recovering the missing history of Henry Adams in Georges Duby’s work provides important insight into gender and identity narratives over the past half century.

Georges Duby was a highly successful academic. The forward to the 1994 University of Chicago English translation of Duby’s intellectual autobiography depicted his influence:

During the 1980s his celebrity could best be appreciated on Thursday afternoons at the Collège de France: hundreds would queue up hours before his lecture to obtain a seat where they could see a distinguished master of short stature, with clear blue eyes, stylishly clad in a classic blazer, lecturing on women in the Middle Ages. Those not forewarned had to be content with the sonority of his impeccable pronunciation transmitted over a loudspeaker in an adjacent room. His audience ranged across the spectrum of Parisian society, from young students in jeans to the elegant “third age” crouched on the floor and in the aisles despite their shining pates and silvered bouffants. Perhaps more than Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes, his rivals for popularity at the Collège, Georges Duby was familiar to a broad audience through appearances on television, radio, and in the full-page newspaper advertisements for the SEPT, France’s new adventure into cultural television.[1]

In Paris in the autumn of 1973, Duby had directed his seminar at the Collège de France toward study of medieval kinship and sex. Duby remembered, “I perceived, sometimes, way off in the back of the room, Foucault discreetly taking notes {j’apercevais parfois, dans le lointain, au fond de la salle, Foucault, discret, prenant des notes}.”[2] Everyone, from young and old innocents to the now-superfamous Michael Foucault, learned from Georges Duby about women in medieval France.

Georges Duby receiving honorary doctorate in 1980

For about two decades, Georges Duby earnestly sought to answer a peculiar question: “What do we know about woman {De la femme, que savons-nous}?”[3] Ponder that question. Medieval women were women, and they were human beings. You, a woman, might know quite a lot about yourself. Moreover, in all societies that have endured, women and men have led intimately intertwined lives. Women, men, and non-binary persons surely know a lot about women, including medieval women. Nonetheless, to externalize and circumscribe even what academic knowledge-professors know about “woman” seems like a Platonic word game or a foolish medieval knight’s quest.

Many men delight in gazing upon a woman’s face and feeling a woman’s body. Duby lamented his inability to do these actions in relation to medieval women:

The ladies of that distant period have for us neither faces nor bodies. One has the right to imagine them, at the time of grand parades at court occasions, dressed in gowns and mantles like those that drape the virgins and the female saints on the doorways and stained-glass windows of churches. But the actual bodies that the gowns and mantles both allowed to be uncovered and enveloped will always escape one’s gaze.

{ Les dames de ces temps lointains n’ont pour lui ni visage ni corps. Il a le droit de les imaginer, lors des grandes parades de cour, revêtues de robes et de manteaux semblables à ceux où se drapent les vierges et les saintes sur les portails et sur les vitraux des églises. Mais la vérité corporelle que robes et manteaux laissaient à découvert et qu’ils enveloppaient échappera toujours à son regard. }[4]

Living organisms have been sexually reproducing on earth for at least 1.2 billion years. Beings physically similar to today’s human beings have existed for at least two million years. Medieval men were able to imagine medieval women’s faces and bodies. Persons today surely can imagine the faces and bodies of human beings who lived only a thousand years ago. Of course, one can’t actually see today even the face of one’s spouse yesterday. Alas! Such pathos in history, which continues one day after another.

In Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, Henry Adams imaginatively transported himself and his niece to medieval France. The editor who brought Adams’s book to public circulation in 1913 praised the visionary quality of Adams’s book:

Greater, perhaps, even than his grasp of the singular entirety of
mediaeval civilization, is Mr. Adams’s power of merging himself in a long dead time, of thinking and feeling with the men and women thereof, and so breathing on the dead bones of antiquity that again they clothe themselves with flesh and vesture, call back their severed souls, and live again, not only to the consciousness of the reader, but before his very eyes.[5]

The Virgin Mary was particularly alive to Adams in the massive, magnificent Chartres Cathedral:

With only half of an atrophied imagination, in a happy mood we could still see the nave and transepts filled with ten thousand people on their knees, and the Virgin, crowned and robed, seating herself on the embroidered cushion that covered her imperial throne; sparkling with gems; bearing in her right hand the sceptre, and in her lap the infant King; but, in the act of seating herself, we should see her pause a moment to look down with love and sympathy on us, — her people, — who pack the enormous hall, and throng far out beyond the open portals; while, an instant later, she glances up to see that her great lords, spiritual and temporal, the advisers of her judgment, the supports of her authority, the agents of her will, shall be in place; robed, mitred, armed; bearing the symbols of her authority and their office [6]

Adams’s sense of the Virgin Mary was like that of medieval women and men:

These people knew the Virgin as well as they knew their own mothers; every jewel in her crown, every stitch of gold-embroidery in her many robes; every colour; every fold; every expression on the perfectly familiar features of her grave, imperial face; every care that lurked in the silent sadness of her power; repeated over and over again, in stone, glass, ivory, enamel, wood; in every room, at the head of every bed, hanging on every neck, standing at every street-corner, the Virgin was as familiar to every one of them as the sun or the seasons; far more familiar than their own earthly queen or countess, although these were no strangers in their daily life; familiar from the earliest childhood to the last agony; in every joy and every sorrow and every danger; in every act and almost in every thought of life, the Virgin was present with a reality that never belonged to her Son or to the Trinity, and hardly to any earthly being, prelate, king, or kaiser; her daily life was as real to them as their own loyalty which brought to her the best they had to offer as the return for her boundless sympathy; but while they knew the Virgin as though she were one of themselves, and because she had been one of themselves, they were not so familiar with all the officers of her court at Chartres

Of course the Virgin Mary was an extraordinary woman. Nonetheless, she was also the mother to everyone who made themselves by faith adopted sisters and brothers of Jesus, the son of Mary.[7] Such understanding has become largely incomprehensible in the present-day European culture sphere, especially among learned historians.

What the public learned from Georges Duby about medieval women and men was astonishing. Georges Duby didn’t see the Virgin Mary in the way that medieval women and men did. He didn’t see her as the prominent, early twentieth-century medievalist Henry Adams did. As a late twentieth-century medieval historian, Duby taught that medieval men, convinced of their gender superiority, treated women as objects, strictly controlled women, and despised women:

For men, the woman was primarily an object. Men gave them, took them, and discarded them. The woman belonged among their assets and personal property. Or to proclaim their own glory, men displayed her at their side, pretentiously adorned, like one of the most beautiful pieces of their treasure, or else they hid her away in the innermost recesses of their residence, and if it was necessary to take her out, they concealed her behind the curtains of a litter, and behind the veil and mantle, since it was important to conceal her from the eyes of other men who might well wish to steal her away. Thus there existed a closed space reserved to women, but strictly controlled by masculine power. In the same way, the time of women was regulated by men, who assigned to the course of their lives three successive stages: girls, necessarily virgins; wives, necessarily submitting to husbands’ embraces, since their function was to bring their heirs into the world; and widows, necessarily reverting to chastity. The woman was subordinate in all cases to the man, in conformity with the hierarchies that, according to the divine plan, constituted the structures of Creation.

{ Pour eux la femme d’abord est un objet. Les hommes la donnent, la prennent, la jettent. Elle fait partie de leur avoir, de leurs biens meubles. Ou bien, pour affirmer leur propre gloire, ils l’exposent à leurs côtés, pompeusement parée, comme l’une des plus belles pièces de leur trésor, ou bien ils la cachent au plus profond de leur demeure et, s’il est besoin de l’en extraire, ils la dissimulent sous les rideaux de la litière, sous le voile, sous le manteau, car il importe de la dérober à la vue d’autres hommes qui pourraient bien vouloir s’en emparer. Il existe ainsi un espace clos réservé aux femmes, étroitement contrôlé par le pouvoir masculin. De même, le temps des femmes est régi par les hommes, qui leur assignent au cours de leur vie trois états successifs : filles, nécessairement vierges ; épouses, nécessairement soumises à leur étreinte car leur fonction est de mettre au monde leurs héritiers; veuves, nécessairement retournées à la continence. Subordonnées dans tous les cas à l’homme, conformément aux hiérarchies qui, selon le plan divin, constituent les membrures de la création. }[8]

Extravagant devotion to the virgin mother Mary across all strata of twelfth-century French society mattered little to Duby. In one of his final works, published in 1995, Duby declared:

In this society, everything official, everything that one lifted up in public, beginning with writing, was, in effect, in the masculine. … Let’s resign ourselves: nothing of the feminine appears except through the sight of men. But, fundamentally, have things so radically changed? Yesterday, as it is today, society doesn’t show anything of itself except that which it judges good to exhibit.

{ Au masculin, en effet, appartient dans cette société tout l’officiel, tout ce qui relève du public, à commencer par l’écriture. … Résignons-nous: rien n’apparaît du féminin qu’à travers le regard des hommes. Mais, au fond, les choses ont- elles si radicalement changé? Hier comme aujourd’hui, la société ne montre d’elle-même que ce qu’elle juge bon d’exhiber. }

According to Duby, medieval queens, princesses, countess, abbesses, and woman merchants, as well as the mixed-sex societies of medieval royal courts and marketplaces, were excluded from the official and the publicly presented. Duby also discounted medieval women writers such Heloise of the Paraclete, Hildegard of Bingen, Marie de France, the trobairitz Lady Castelloza, women’s voices of the Galician-Portuguese “songs about a beloved man {cantigas d’amigo},” and the women writers of the Regensburg songs and the Tegernsee love-letters. If, as a medieval scholar, Duby actually heard nothing of medieval women’s voices, then he must have made himself insistently deaf to them.[9]

Portrait of Elizabeth Sherman Cameron, beloved of Henry Adams

Georges Duby seems to have marginalized and silenced medieval women for his own particular rhetorical purpose across many years. Explicitly noting that he drew upon medieval studies he did between 1967 and 1986, Duby in 1988 emphasized the maleness of medieval Europe and its associated characteristics:

The Middle Ages were resolutely male. All the remarks that reach me and inform me were held by men, convinced of the superiority of their sex. I hear only them. However, I listen to men speaking here in front of all about their desire, and consequently about women. Men were afraid of women and, to reassure themselves, despised them.

{ Ce Moyen Âge est mâle, résolument. Car tous les propos qui me parviennent et me renseignent sont tenus par des hommes, convaincus de la supériorité de leur sexe. Je n’entends qu’eux. Cependant, je les écoute ici parlant avant tout de leur désir, et par conséquent des femmes. Ils ont peur d’elles, et pour se rassurer, les méprisent. }[10]

According to Duby’s detailed studies of historical documents, medieval men weren’t afraid that women would shame them into violence against men, cuckold them, rape them, or extort money from them. Medieval men weren’t afraid that women would take advantage of medieval men’s ardent love for women and medieval men’s courtly obligation to do anything for women. According to Duby, men feared the power of women, women whom Duby’s research found to be powerless and regarded as intrinsically inferior by medieval men. Duby pushed his peculiar reasoning even further:

Nonetheless, women did not let themselves be so easily dominated, as men of the twelfth century learned from experience, and this is why men feared women. Fearing women, men regarded them as naturally bad.

{ Toutefois, les femmes ne se laissent pas si facilement dominer, les hommes du xiie siècle en font l’expérience, et c’est pour cela qu’ils les craignent. Les craignant, ils les jugent naturellement mauvaises. }

In short, medieval men feared and despised women because medieval men were stupid and naturally vicious. More recent scholarship typically limits such character defects to white Christian men born within the geographic boundaries of the nation. The valorizing mechanisms of French public intellectual life, along with followers throughout the world, judged Duby’s rhetoric to be not just reasonable, but profound. Rhetoric following Duby’s template has been enormously influential, especially within identity studies in America.

The intricacies of Georges Duby’s rhetoric deserve careful analysis. Well-versed in medieval and modern scholastic reasoning, Duby employed dialectic and casuistry in ways that make falsification nearly impossible. Consider for example, Duby’s concluding claim in volume 1 of his career-culminating 1995-6 work, Dames du XIIe siècle {Ladies of the 12th Century}:

Ladies of this period remained, it is certain, subject to the power of men, who still judged them as dangerous and frail. A few among the men, however, and a larger and larger number, discovered women as objects and subjects of love. These men looked at women with a less disdainful eye. It is thus that women imperceptibly began to extricate themselves from the strictest shackles in which masculine power held them.

{ Les dames de ce temps demeurèrent, c’est certain, soumises au pouvoir des hommes qui les jugeaient toujours dangereuses et fragiles. Quelques-uns d’entre eux cependant, et de plus en plus nombreux, les découvraient objets et sujets d’amour. Ils les regardaient d’un œil moins dédaigneux. C’est ainsi qu’insensiblement elles commencèrent à se dégager des plus strictes entraves où les tenait la puissance masculine. }

Women began to extricate themselves from the strictest shackles of masculine power when women in their shackles somehow compelled men to look upon them less disdainfully. When did this momentous and fundamentally important change in the male gaze occur? Through his detailed historical research, Duby identified the year in which more and more medieval men looked upon women less disdainfully:

it seems to me that one can situate around 1180, when the violent surge of growth sweeping through Europe was at its height, the time when the situation of these women was a little improved, when men became accustomed to treating them as persons, to negotiating with them, to enlarging the field of women’s freedom, and to cultivating those special gifts that made women closer to the supernatural. This is the main conclusion to emerge from my research.

{ il m’a semblé pouvoir situer vers 1180, alors que le violent élan de croissance qui emportait l’Europe se trouvait au plus vif de sa vigueur, le moment où la situation de ces femmes fut quelque peu exhaussée, où les hommes s’accoutumèrent à les traiter comme des personnes, à débattre avec elles, à élargir le champ de leur liberté, à cultiver ces dons particuliers qui les rendent plus proches de la surnature. Voici ce qui ressort le plus nettement de l’enquête qui j’ai menée. }[11]

Duby’s scholarly finding that women have special gifts that bring them closer than men to the supernatural echoes a theme of Adams’s Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres. Adams, however, didn’t engage in the sort of total history that would allow him to produce Duby’s sensational claim that men became accustomed to treating women as persons in Europe around the year 1180. Despite that alleged momentous historical turning point, Duby nonetheless concluded that men in twelfth-century France didn’t appreciate women:

Eve attracted them, and Eve frightened them. Either men kept a prudent distance from women, or else they treated women very harshly, mocking them, entrenched in the stubborn conviction of their natural superiority. It was men, ultimately, who failed women.

{ Ève les attirait, Ève les effrayait. Ils s’écartaient prudemment des femmes, ou bien les rudoyaient, se gaussaient d’elles, retranchés dans la certitude têtue de leur supériorité naturelle. Ce sont eux, finalement, qui les ont manquées. }

Duby here uses Eve to represent all women. That’s apparent from a slightly different version of Duby’s historical finding featured on the back cover of Duby’s Dames du XIIe siècle, volume 3:

Women attracted them, and women frightened them. Confident of their superiority, men kept their distance from women or treated women very harshly. It was men, ultimately, who failed women.

{ Elles les attiraient, elles les effrayaient. Sûrs de leur supériorité, ils s’écartaient d’elles ou bien les rudoyaient. Ce sont eux, finalement, qui les ont manquées. }[12]

Eve was a medieval type for women. So was the Virgin Mary. Duby failed medieval women by typing them only as Eve. Duby failed medieval men by treating them very harshly. Duby treated medieval men as objects for deploying now-conventional academic rhetoric about oppressors and the oppressed. By projecting gender resentment onto medieval Europe, Duby historically naturalized it for the present.

Nearly a century earlier, Henry Adams engaged in more sophisticated rhetoric about medieval gender. In his book Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, Adams characterized women of twelfth-century France as behaving like men, but intellectually and socially superior to men. Adams described Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, as a medieval goddess who effectively ruled France and controlled enormous economic resources. In Adams’s account, medieval women established the law under which medieval men lived:

In the twelfth century he {the French poet} wanted chiefly to please women, as Orderic complained; Isolde came out of Brittany to meet Eleanor coming up from Guienne, and the Virgin from the east; and all united in giving law to society. In each case it was the woman, not the man, who gave the law; — it was Mary, not the Trinity; Eleanor, not Louis VII; Isolde, not Tristan.[13]

Adams understood medieval women to be more powerful than men:

Always the woman appears as the practical guide; the one who keeps her head, even in love … The woman might be the good or the evil spirit, but she was always the stronger force. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries were a period when men were at their strongest; never before or since have they shown equal energy in such varied directions, or such intelligence in the direction of their energy; yet these marvels of history, — these Plantagenets; these scholastic philosophers; these architects of Rheims and Amiens; these Innocents, and Robin Hoods and Marco Polos; these crusaders, who planted their enormous fortresses all over the Levant; these monks who made the wastes and barrens yield harvests; — all, without apparent exception, bowed down before the woman.

Like Duby, but much less frequently, Adams scornfuly depicted men. Adams depicted men as souless, ignorant, and conceited:

If I were beginning again as a writer, I think I should drop the man, except as an accessory, and study the woman of the future. The American man is a very simple and cheap mechanism. The American woman I find a complicated and expensive one. Contrasts of feminine types are possible. I am not absolutely sure that there is more than one American man.

The American man is one-sided to deformity, and yet extraordinarily conceited, as far as literature reveals him. The American woman flatters him and rules him. He likes to be ruled. He is a peaceful, domestic animal, fond of baby-talk. I like him, for he is helpless and sympathetic; afraid of himself, of his women, of his children; yearning for love and dough-nuts; shocked at automobiles and Trusts; proud and puffed up at riding a horse and shooting a bear; he is a gentleman whom I knew well; in fact, though it is not anything I boast of, I was once an American man myself. Unluckily I was never an American woman.[14]

Adams disparaged men in his own person as a man. He didn’t imagine medieval women, in their dominant position and with their natural superiority, fearing men and despising men. Adams didn’t tell a history of vicious, oppressive men and virtuous, oppressed women. In such schematic history, the direction of liberation is obvious. For Adams, in contrast, liberation through historical encounter requires a difficult, perhaps impossible, will to believe.[15]

Not writing about medieval women in a way designed to attract attention and acclaim, Henry Adams was personally reticent in presenting Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres to the public. He paid for it to be privately printed in 1904 in an edition of 150 copies. In 1912, he paid to have the book privately reprinted in a further edition of 500 copies. He apparently gave away these copies to interested persons. Only reluctantly he allowed the American Institute of Architects to bring out an edition to be publicly sold in 1913. Advance sales of the book were record-setting. It became “a high-status bestseller in its own time.” Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres remained in print throughout the twentieth century, with a French translation published in 1955.[16]

Henry Adams similarly never published his medieval-themed poem “Prayer to the Virgin of Chartres.” His wrote this poem in 1901 and sent it only to Elizabeth Cameron. Both he and she were married, and she was twenty years young than he. She was a mother, with a daughter born in 1883. She named her daughter Martha, but had wanted to name her Marian. She didn’t name her daughter Marian because Henry had been away on business and wasn’t available to approve her naming her daughter after his wife. Henry was infatuated with Elizabeth, but she wasn’t interested in having a sexual affair with him.[17] His infatuation with her is an obvious subtext for his “Prayer to the Virgin of Chartres.” He was like a medieval man sending love poetry to a woman and unsuccessfully imploring her to have sex with him:

Before your majesty of grace and love,
The purity, the beauty and the faith;
The depth of tenderness beneath; above,
The glory of the life and of the death.

When your Byzantine portal still was young,
I came here with my master Abailard;
When Ave Maris Stella was first sung,
I joined to sing it here with Saint Bernard.

When Blanche set up your glorious Rose of France,
In scholar’s robes I waited on the Queen;
When good Saint Louis did his penitence,
My prayer was deep like his: my faith as keen.

What loftier prize seven hundred years shall bring,
What deadlier struggles for a larger air,
What immortality our strength shall wring
From Time and Space, we may — or may not — care;

But years, or ages, or eternity,
Will find me still in thought before your throne,
Pondering the mystery of Maternity,
Soul within Soul, — Mother and Child in One!

Help me to see! not with my mimic sight —
With yours! which carried radiance, like the sun,
Giving the rays you saw with — light in light —
Tying all suns and stars and worlds in one.

Help me to know! not with my mocking art —
With you, who knew yourself unbound by laws;
Gave God your strength, your life, your sight, your heart,
And took from him the Thought that Is — the Cause.

Help me to feel! not with my insect sense, —
With yours that felt all life alive in you;
Infinite heart beating at your expense;
Infinite passion breathing the breath you drew!

Help me to bear! not my own baby load,
But yours; who bore the failure of the light,
The strength, the knowledge and the thought of God, —
The futile folly of the Infinite![18]

Medieval men mixed love of God and love of an earthly woman to an extent nearly inconceivable now. Medieval men’s effusive poetry of their love for earthly women often extends even into gyno-idolatry. Adams adapted that characteristic of medieval men’s love poetry. Adams himself, however, was not Catholic. He was not Christian in the sense of affirming any established Christian creed or affiliating with any actual Christian church. But his “Prayer to the Virgin of Chartres” mattered much to Henry Adams. The final version of this never-published poem was found in the packet of Adams’s special papers at his death in 1918.[19]

portrait of Henry Adams about 1885

Writing less personally than Henry Adams, Georges Duby produced his works within vigorous academic discussion and apparently keen interest in selling books. Duby’s book Medieval Marriage: Two Models from Twelfth-Century France (1978) was originally presented as lectures at Johns Hopkins University in the U.S. in 1977. This book presented model medieval misogyny of two types: marriage according to clerical misogyny and marriage according to feudal misogny.[20]

Duby’s subsequent book, Le chevalier, la femme et le prêtre: le mariage dans la France féodale {The knight, the woman and the priest: marriage in feudal France} (1981), built upon Duby’s two models of marriage misogyny. According to Duby, this subsequent work “went deeper and drew finer distinctions.”[21] Its title offered the frisson of a sensational love triangle. The feudal France of its subtitle, however, may have darkly dragged down sales. The English translation went with the love triangle, heightened with “lady” rather than “woman,” and a more topical subtitle hook: The knight, the lady and the priest: the making of modern marriage in medieval France (1993). Duby’s book apparently inspired a student to write in her notes:

I want to write something that will make me mad!! is sexy, controversial + anti-male, anti-marriage.

Online journalism has shown that enraging writing attracts readers. Duby’s work has probably similarly affected many students.

student note in Georges Duby's The knight, the woman and the priest

In 1988, Duby brought out the sensationally titled Mâle Moyen Âge {Male Middle Age}. Men typically regret becoming middle-aged. Mâle Moyen Âge consisted of three parts: one part on love and marriage, another part on family structure, and a mainly historiographic third part. Its English translation replaced Mâle Moyen Âge with the more broadly understandable title, Love and Marriage in the Middle Ages.

Duby’s last published work had the series title Dames du XIIe siècle {Ladies of the 12th Century} (1995-6). It was issued in three slim volumes totaling 379 pages in English translation, with pages relatively small for a scholarly history book.[22] The three volumes have no notes and no bibliographic references. Their English translation, issued by the prestigious University of Chicago Press, has the series title Women of the Twelfth Century. In American English, “women” is a more sober term than “ladies.”

Georges Duby’s books don’t even mention the radically different view of medieval women in Henry Adams’s Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres. In his intellectual autobiography published in 1991, Duby exoticized American study of medieval Europe:

In the American universities, the study of the Middle Ages stands, and completely naturally, in a marginal position, a little like Indianism in our country, which isn’t without advantage.

{ Dans les universités américaines, l’étude du Moyen Age se tient, et tout naturellement, dans une position marginale, un peu comme chez nous l’indianisme, ce qui n’est pas sans avantage. }[23]

In fact, American thinkers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries actively considered medieval Europe. The collegiate Gothic buildings that rose with the growth of U.S. universities early in the twentieth century display American intellectual engagement with medieval Europe.[24] Especially given Duby’s repeatedly declared desire to know medieval women, Duby might have at least mentioned a particularly relevant prior study of medieval women by an American medievalist. In any case, for their work both Duby and Adams probably would want women to be credited.

Georges Duby’s missing history of Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres undergirds his historically distinctive rhetoric about medieval women and men. Duby influentially expounded for women and men an identity-based, totalizing narrative of supremacy, oppression, and social injustice. That narrative pattern now dominates intellectual life in the European cultural sphere.[25] To better understand this intellectual development, interested persons should study comparatively Henry Adams’s Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (1904) and Georges Duby’s career-culminating publication, Dames du XIIe siècle (1995-6).

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[1] John Baldwin’s Foreword in Duby (1994a) p. vii. Duby was named the president of Société d’édition de programmes de télévision (SEPT) at its founding in 1986. SEPT was intended to provide publicly funded cultural and educational programming. Baldwin observed:

The French take great pride in cultivating an awareness of their past. Among those who practice history in France today, Georges Duby is arguably the most celebrated and productive, certainly among historians of the Middle Ages.

Id. Duby was a “Parisian mandarin,” one of the “two best Annales medievalists of the new generation.” Cantor (1991) pp. 126, 152.

Duby was appointed to Chair of the History of Medieval Society at the Collège de France (Paris) in 1970. He held that Chair until his retirement in 1991. Duby was elected to the forty-member Académie française in 1987. That was a rare honor for an academic. He received honorary degrees from the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, and Harvard University, among many other honorary degrees and awards. Professor Christopher Brooke, Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge, called Duby “a grand master among medieval social historians” in his backcover blurb on Duby (1997a). A French scholar in 2006 called Duby the “grand master of medieval studies {grand maître des études médiévales}.”

Duby described large crowds attending lectures of Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes at the Collège de France:

After 1968, the decentralization of the Sorbonne and its subsequent decline led many young persons to turn to the Collège de France. They traveled to invade the lectures and crowded to hear Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes, whom I saw, the one and the other, trembling at the thought of facing such crowds.

{ Après 1968, l’éclatement de la Sorbonne et son fléchissement détournèrent beaucoup de jeunes vers le Collège. On les voyait en envahir les cours, se presser autour de Michel Foucault, de Roland Barthes que j’ai vu l’un et l’autre trembler à l’instant d’affronter ces foules. }

Duby (1991) p. 148 (my English translation). For the published English translation, Duby (1994a) p. 88. Duby, an equally popular lecturer at the Collège de France, didn’t mention whether he also trembled at the thought of facing those crowds.

[2] Duby (1991) p. 200, my English translation, benefiting from that of Goldhammer for Duby (1994a). I translate Duby as closely as possible to the original French within the constraints of fluent English. Subsequent quotes from Duby’s works are similarly cited, with the French original cited first and the published English translation second. I note important differences between my English translation and the published English translation. In some cases I have converted pronouns to obvious referents for clarity.

[3] Duby (1991) p. 209; Duby (1994a) p. 126. Duby elaborated on the importance to him of the question “What do we know about woman {De la femme, que savons-nous}?”:

I am busy, in the moment even as I write these thoughts, to give an answer to this question. It has preoccupied me for about ten years. All my research, all my teaching revolves around it.

{ Je m’emploie, dans le moment même où j’écris ces réflexions, à donner réponse à cette question. Elle me retient depuis une dizaine d’années. Toutes mes recherches, tout mon enseignement tournent autour d’elle. }

Duby (1991) p. 211; Duby (1994a) p. 127. These words begin his chapter 17, “Projects {Projets}.” Goldhammer’s translation elides the temporal detail of Duby’s incredible claim “in the moment even as I write these thoughts {dans le moment même où j’écris ces réflexions}” with the translation “even as I write these memoirs.”

Duby highlighted a similar question in the concluding sentences of Le chevalier, la femme et le prêtre:

It is necessary nonetheless, amid all these men who alone, shouting, proclaimed what they had done or what they aspired to do, not to forget the women. We personally have talked a lot about them. What do we know about the women?

{ Il faudrait toutefois ne pas oublier parmi tous ces hommes qui seuls, vociférant, clamaient ce qu’ils avaient fait ou ce qu’ils rêvaient de faire, les femmes. On en parle beaucoup. Que sait-on d’elles? }

Duby (1981) p. 304. Bray translated these final three sentences in Le chevalier, la femme et le prêtre thus:

But amid the clamor of all these men asserting what they had done or wanted to do, we must not forget the women. Much has already been said about them. But how much do we really know?

{ Il faudrait toutefois ne pas oublier parmi tous ces hommes qui seuls, vociférant, clamaient ce qu’ils avaient fait ou ce qu’ils rêvaient de faire, les femmes. On en parle beaucoup. Que sait-on d’elles? }

Duby (1983) p. 284, with French text of Duby (1981) p. 304. By transforming the participle “vociférant” into a noun and not translating “seuls,” Bray softened Duby’s anti-men rhetoric. By making “on en parle” impersonal and adding the glosses “already” and “really,” Bray shifted the last two sentences toward an authoritative critique of prior scholarship.

Bray’s translation of these sentences was so attractive that they were included in a marketing blurb for Duby’s The knight, the lady and the priest. Moreover, eminent film and literary critic Kenneth Turan, writing in the popular U.S. public affairs journal Time, declared:

It is typical of Duby’s modest spirit and his book-long concern with the ancient status of beleaguered wives that he ends his study with a plea: ‘we must not forget the women. Much has already been said about them. But how much do we really know?’ Not everything, certainly, but far more than we did before the author began these charmingly erudite investigations.

From the back cover of the University of Chicago Press edition (1993) of Duby (1983). Turan’s perception of “Duby’s modest spirit” obtusely confuses Duby’s rhetoric with Duby’s objective circumstances and plausible intent in writing the book. Turan’s reference to “the ancient status of beleaguered wives” is classic poor-dearism. In this book subtitled to be about the making of modern marriage, Duby said nothing about paternity misattribution, child custody decisions, and financial claims linked to custody of children.

In a preface added to The knight, the lady and the priest, Duby emphasized his concluding question:

The book concludes with a question: what do we know about the women? For my study of medieval marriage brought me to the frontiers of an unknown realm: the world of women. I had been hearing about women all along, but the speakers were always men representing members of the other sex as objects at once contemptible, terrifying, and tempting.

What I want to do next is try to demystify this male discourse and find out what the position of women really was in the period with which I am concerned.

Duby (1983) p. xx, Preface, labeled “Beaurecueil, June 1983.” Natalie Zemon Davis’s fawning introduction to The knight, the lady and the priest declared:

Duby ends his book with the moving query, how much do we learn about women from all this?

Duby (1983) p. xii. The straight-forward answer seems to be that we learn little about women after reading Duby’s book. Duby’s query thus seems less moving than pathetic. But it was moving in the sense that Duby found it so appealing that he subsequently moved it to Duby (1991) p. 209; Duby (1994a) p. 126, and to his final volume, Duby (1996) p. 147; Duby (1998) p. 121. For a remarkably ofuscatory eulogy of Duby’s rhetoric in Dames du XIIe siècle, e.g. “a discourse vehement and convincing, the most personal that the historian had ever put into his work {un discours véhément et convaincant, le plus personnel que l’historien ait jamais mis en oeuvre},” Bohler (1998).

What did Duby personally know about living women? He said little about them in his intellectual autobiography:

Often focusing narrowly on what he wrote, how he wrote it, and why he wrote it, Duby is more terse and circumspect in reviewing his own life and career than other recent practitioners of this genre of academic writing have been. He carefully preserves his privacy and avoids clear references to such academic wrangles as he could hardly have escaped. Indeed he sometimes treats his career, French academia, and the people he has worked with so cryptically that only insiders (that is, French insiders) will know how to decode his remarks.

White (1995).

[4] Duby (1995a) pp. 7-8; Duby (1997a) p. 1. Duby lamented that “objects that medieval women held in their hands and that we can still touch {les objets qu’elles ont tenus dans leurs mains et que nous pouvons encore toucher}” are rare. Id. What about bread, water, wood, milk, meat? Duby seemed uninterested in the ordinary substances of mundane life, then and now. He imagined medieval women wrapped in sumptuous Oriental fabrics that they gave in alms to wrap sacred relics in reliquaries. Id. Duby thus presented an exoticizing, unsacramental sense of substance in medieval women’s lives.

Early-modern men scientists sought to penetrate the secrets of nature, gendered feminine. Duby’s rhetoric is more explicitly directed at medieval women’s bodies:

I would like in effect to uncover the hidden part, the feminine, that which was the woman in those distant time. Here is what I now strive to know again.

{ Je voudrais en effet découvrir la partie cachée, la féminité. Ce qu’était la femme en ces temps lointains, voici ce qu’à présent je m’évertue à reconnaître. }

Duby (1988) p. 7; Duby (1994b) p. vii (from “Author’s Note”). Duby’s desire for medieval women parallels his perception of medieval men in relation to women: “Men prowled around women, longing to capture one {Ils rôdaient autour des femmes, languissant d’en capturer une}.” Men regarded women as “a territory of nostalgia and strangeness {un territoire de nostalgie et d’étrangeté}.” Duby (1995a) pp. 112, 117; Duby (1997a) p. 67, 70.

[5] Ralph Adams Cram, “Editor’s Note,” Adams (1904) p. vii, edition of 1913. Cram asked Adams, on behalf of the American Institutes of Architects, to be allowed to arrange publication for general sale. Adams reluctantly consented, but refused to participate in the venture. Id. p. v.

In its first two private printings in 1904 and 1912, the title didn’t hyphenate Mont Saint Michel. Its title was Mont Saint Michel and Chartres. Since the edition that Cram led in 1913, its title has been printed as Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres. Ziolkowski (2018) vol. 3, p. 308, note to “Mont Saint Michel and Chartres.”

As a member of the eminent Adams political family, Henry Brooks Adams (lived 1838 to 1918) knew personally and extensively hidden gender power dynamics among the American elite. He had as his paternal grandfather John Quincy Adams, the sixth U.S. president, and as his great-grandfather John Adams, the second U.S. president. His maternal grandfather was Peter Chardon Brooks, a very wealthy merchant. Henry Adams’s father, Charles Francis Adams, served as U.S. president Abraham Lincoln’s ambassador to Britain and became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

[6] Adams (1904) p. 182. The subsequent quote above is from id. p. 183.

[7] John 1:12, Ephesians 1:5, Galatians 4:5.

[8] Duby (1995a) pp. 169-70; Duby (1997a) p. 101. The subsequent quote is from Duby (1995a) pp. 10-11; Duby (1997a) p. 3.

[9] Duby included a chapter titled “Héloïse” in Duby (1995a). The second and third sentences of that chapter, the longest chapter in the volume, declare:

What do we know about Héloïse? In truth, little of anything.

{ Que sait-on d’elle ? En vérité peu de choses. }

Duby (1995a) p. 73; Duby (1997a) p. 44. In truth, much more is known about Héloïse d’Argenteuil, Abbess of the Paraclete, than about almost all medieval men. Surviving writings of hers are three letters to Abelard, her customary for the Paraclete (Institutiones nostre), her preface and exegetical queries to Abelard in Problemata Heloissae, and possibly also the woman’s letters of the Letters of Two Lovers. We also know about her through Peter Abelard’s love for her.

Though he claimed to be arduously seeking women’s voices, Duby doubted the authenticity of Héloïse’s letters to Abelard. Duby also described them as misogynistic:

It is necessary in the first place to beware. This text is suspect. … Let us admit that Héloïse has truly written these three letters, which personally I doubt. … The thinking of those who prided themselves in writing necessarily expressed itself in these rigid, conventional forms, those of a rhetoric for which we have lost the practice. It is thus that the words attributed to Héloïse have come to us. And by these writings, composed to persuade a vast audience. … Have we considered how much the work for which I am trying to draw out the sense is misogynist?

{ Il doit en premier lieu se méfier. Ce texte est suspect. … Admettons qu’Héloïse ait bien écrit ses trois missives, ce dont personnellement je doute. … La pensée de quiconque se piquait d’écrire s’exprimait nécessairement dans ces formes rigides, conventionnelles, celles d’une rhétorique dont nous avons perdu l’usage. C’est ainsi que les paroles prêtées à Héloïse nous sont parvenues. Et par des écrits composés pour convaincre un vaste auditoire. … Mesure-t-on combien l’oevre dont je tente de dégager le sens est misogyne? }

Duby (1995a) pp. 90, 92, 93-4, 100; Duby (1997a) pp. 53, 54, 55, 59. Most scholars now regard Héloïse’s letters to Abelard to be authentic. Labeling Héloïse’s letters “misogynist” means only that modern scholars find something among what she says to be distasteful to them.

Duby’s silencing of medieval women is evident in the massive study, A History of Women in the West, for which Duby was the general editor along with Michelle Perrot. The nearly six-hundred page volume about women from the sixth to the fifteenth centuries is titled Silences of the Middle Ages. Klapisch-Zuber (1992). That volume includes only four brief references to Héloïse d’Argenteuil, Abbess of the Paraclete. It mentions Marie de France only three times, once under the heading “Fictional Language?” It never mentions Henry Adams and Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres. This book, published by the prestigious Belknap Press of Harvard University, is a sobering testimony to missing history. It seems to have been composed to promote a particular gender ideology and Duby’s specific rhetorical position about medieval women.

[10] Duby (1988) p. 7; Duby (1994b) p. vii (from “Author’s Note”). The book blurb similarly proclaimed, “The Middle Age is resolutely male {Le Moyen Âge est mâle, résolument}.” The subsequent two quotes above are from Duby (1995a) p. 170; Duby (1997a) p. 102; and Duby (1995a) p. 174; Duby (1997a) p. 104.

[11] Duby (1996) p. 148; Duby (1998) p. 122. The subsequent quote above is from id.

[12] Birrell translated the concluding sentence of Duby (1996), “Ce sont eux, finalement, qui les ont manquées” as “It was men, ultimately, who failed women.” Duby (1998) p. 122. That sentence could be translated as, “It is men, ultimate, who had missed women.” Duby rhetorically positioned himself on a heroic quest to encounter medieval women. With the verb “manquer,” he seems to suggest that other men failed to encounter women by keeping a distance from women or treating women very harshly. Nonetheless, the translation “It was men, ultimately, who failed women” seems to me best because it clearly expresses Duby’s primary meaning.

Duby’s perception of medieval European gender oppression has scarcely been questioned since he triumphed with it. Cantor observed:

In the late 1970s and 1980s, both Duby and Le Roy Ladurie, handsome, articulate, well-groomed Parisians, became TV stars in the metropolis. No one in Paris questioned their perception of the Middle Ages. No one dared to.

Cantor (1991) p. 152.

[13] Adams (1904) p. 220. The subsequent quote above is from id. p. 246.

[14] Henry Adams to George Cabot Lodge, letter dated 27 April 1903, printed in Cater (1947) p. 544. Adams didn’t teach such gender bigotry in public lectures at Harvard University, where he was professor of medieval history from 1870 to 1877. Adams expressed this gender bigotry amid extravagant rhetoric in a personal letter to a fellow writer.

Both the novels that Adams wrote, Democracy and Esther, revolve around a central woman character. Adams published Democracy anonymously in 1880. He published Esther under the female pseudonym Frances Snow Compton. On women in these novels, Manheim (1990) pp. 607-16. In his letter to George Cabot Lodge, Adams declared:

In modern society, the man and his masculinity are at disadvantage. The woman is gaining on him. At least, it strikes me that she has literally driven his taste out of literature. Our magazines are wholly feminine.

Henry Adams to George Cabot Lodge, letter dated 27 April 1903, printed in Cater (1947) p. 544. One might ponder silently Georges Duby’s question: “But, fundamentally, have things so radically changed? {Mais, au fond, les choses ont- elles si radicalement changé?}” Duby (1995a) p. 11; Duby (1997a) p. 3.

Henry Adams had six siblings. His oldest sibling, Louisa Catherine Adams (lived 1831 to 1870), was seven years older than he. She married Charles Kuhn. Adams wrote of traveling with his older sister Louisa (“Mrs. Kuhn”) in Italy:

She was the first young woman he was ever intimate with — quick, sensitive, wilful, or full of will, energetic, sympathetic and intelligent enough to supply a score of men with ideas — and he was delighted to give her the reins — to let her drive him where she would. It was his first experiment in giving the reins to a woman, and he was so much pleased with the results that he never wanted to take them back. In after life he made a general law of experience — no woman had ever driven him wrong; no man had ever driven him right.

Adams (1907) pp. 75-6. As a sympathetic and intelligent woman, Louisa was probably appalled at some of her brother’s comments about men.

[15] In Chapter 10, “The Court of Queen of Heaven,” Adams concluded mournfully his visit to the Virgin of Chartres:

It was very childlike, very foolish, very beautiful, and very true, — as art, at least: — so true that everything else shades off into vulgarity, as you see the Persephone of a Syracusan coin shade off into the vulgarity of a Roman emperor; as though the heaven that lies about us in our infancy too quickly takes colours that are not so much sober as sordid, and would be welcome if no worse than that. Vulgarity, too, has feeling, and its expression in art has truth and even pathos, but we shall have time enough in our lives for that, and all the more because, when we rise from our knees now, we have finished our pilgrimage. We have done with Chartres. For seven hundred years Chartres has seen pilgrims, coming and going more or less like us, and will perhaps see them for another seven hundred years; but we shall see it no more, and can safely leave the Virgin in her majesty, with her three great prophets on either hand, as calm and confident in their own strength and in God’s providence as they were when Saint Louis was born, but looking down from a deserted heaven, into an empty church, on a dead faith.

Adams (1904) pp. 196-7. Chandler commented:

Henry Adam’s Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres is the culminating work of the medieval revival; it is also the bitterest proof of its failure. For Adams’s book once again tells us that the creative society can only be based on faith; but it shows that even in the Middle Ages, such faith could not exist.

Chandler (1970) p. 233-4. Such faith has existed and continues to exist. Whether Christian faith will exist on earth in the future remains to be seen. Luke 18:8. While faith can contribute to a creative society, a creative society isn’t necessarily based on faith. For a different critique of Chandler’s view, Ziolkowski (2018) vol. 3, p. 186.

[16] For the edition sizes of 150 and 500 for two private printings of Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres in 1904 and 1912, Ziolkowski (2018) vol. 3, p. 315, note to “printing it privately.” Adams distributed copies “only to his inner circle.” Id. p. 100. On the third, trade edition (1913) breaking records in advance sales at Houghton Mifflin, id. p. 367, note to “bestseller in its own time.” For the book as a “a high-status bestseller in its own time,” id. p. 185; similarly, id. p. 56. After the 1913 trade edition, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres stayed in print throughout the twentieth century. Princeton University Press issued an edition in 1989. Id. pp. 53, 315 (note to “stayed in print”). For the French edition, Adams (1955).

Adams handled publicity for his autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, similarly. He first privately printed that book in an edition of forty copies. He made a subsequent private printing of 100 copies. Ziolkowski (2018) vol. 3, p. 315, note for “stayed in print.” The Education of Henry Adams was first printed for public sale in September, 1918, six months after Adams died. In 1919, it topped the American list of non-fiction bestsellers and received a Pulitzer Prize. For a recent edition, Adams (1907).

[17] Adams first composed “Prayer to the Virgin of Chartres” in 1901 and sent the fair copy only to Elizabeth Cameron. Ziolkowski (2018) vol. 3, p. 89. As a twenty-year old, the beautiful Elizabeth “Lizzie” Sherman married Senator James Donald Cameron in 1878. See collection guide for “Elizabeth Sherman Cameron Letters” at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Henry Adams married Marian “Clover” Hooper in 1872. On the naming of Elizabeth and James’s daughter Martha, Ziolkowski (2018) vol. 3, p. 95. On Adams’s infatuation with Elizabeth Cameron, id. pp. 59-62, 89, 93-4. The virginity of the Virgin in a sexual sense mattered little to Adams.

[18] Henry Adams, “Prayer to the Virgin of Chartres,” final nine stanzas. Henry Adams seems to have drawn inspiration from Adam of Saint Victor’s twelfth-century sequence for the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary {Assumptio Beatae Mariae Virgins}, sequence incipit “Hail, singular Virgin {Ave, Virgo singularis.” See Adams (1904) p. 329. For a Latin edition and English translation of Adam of Saint Victor’s “Ave, Virgo singularis,” Wrangham (1881) vol. 2, pp. 172-9. After Henry Adams’s death in 1918, “Prayer to the Virgin of Chartres” was published in Adams & La Farge (1920).

Embedded in Adams’s “Prayer to the Virgin of Chartres” is his “Prayer to the Dynamo.” Adams saw dynamos at the Chicago Exposition of 1893 and in the machine gallery of the Champs de Mars at the Great Exposition of 1900 in Paris. Adams contrasted the dynamo and the Virgin Mary in Chapter 25, “The Dynamo and the Virgin (1900),” of The Education of Henry Adams. Adams (1907). Adams associated the Virgin Mary with unity and the dynamo with multiplicity. On that thematic contrast, Ziolkowski (1998) vol. 3, pp. 102-3.

Samuels commented about Adams’s “Prayer to the Virgin of Chartres”:

The “Prayer” expresses the essence of the Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres. Not the male principle, not intellect nor the sword of action stormed Heaven, but the Woman, the compassionate Virgin and her miracles. All was tributary to her. The singular Mariolatry of the poem was the same as that of the book.

Samuels (1964) p. 228.

[19] Ziolkowski (2018) vol. 3, pp. 89-90. Adams was an “agnostic Mariolater.” Id. p. 68. Ziolkowski observed of this poem:

the lines express belief not in the religion surrounding the Blessed Virgin, but in the idea that womanhood could function as a counterweight to the modernity, on the outskirts of modernism, from which Adams sprang back. Mary is counterpoise or alter ego to both the modern and the masculine.

Id. p. 90. Adams wasn’t interested in becoming a Catholic. Samuels (1964) pp. 229-30. Adams quixotically declared:

even now I can fancy myself contented in the cloister, and happy in the daily round of duties, if only I still knew a God to pray to, or better yet, a Goddess; for as I grow older I see that all the human interest and power that religion ever had, was in the mother and child, and I would have nothing to do with a church that did not offer both.

Henry Adams to Elizabeth Cameron, November 12, 1891, from Levenson et al. (1982) vol. 3, pp. 560-1. Adam’s beloved Elizabeth Cameron, married to another man, was one of Adams’s goddesses. He continued: “There you are again! you see how the thought always turns back to you.” Id.

[20] Sarah Kay, a scholarly follower of Georges Duby, declared of Duby’s Medieval Marriage: Two Models from Twelfth-Century France, “His book could have been called Medieval Misogyny: Two Models.” Kay (1990) p. 131. Kay used “Medieval Misogny: Two Models” as a section heading in her scholarly article. Id.

[21] Duby (1983) p. xix (newly added preface).

[22] The page counts (counting only pages of text) for the three English volumes of Duby’s Women of the Twelfth Century are 104, 140, and 122 pages, respectively. The page size is relatively small for a learned history book. The page counts listed in bibliographic entries for the three French volumes of the source work, Duby’s Dames du XIIe siècle, are 173, 237, 217 pages, while the Kindle volumes are 127, 167, and 154 pages, respectively. The French print edition has remarkably narrow pages, the size of the book is padded with non-content pages at the front and back, and page numbering includes prefatory matter. The three volumes could have been easily accommodated within one, not particularly large, book. All three were published as mass-market paperbacks.

Georges Duby was a leading member of the younger generation of Annales scholars following in the tradition of Marc Bloch and Fernand Braudel:

What the younger generation of French medievalists learned from Bloch through Braudel was the importance of communication. It was not only what you said but how you said it, the way you communicated, the style with which you delivered your thesis — in short, marketing— that was so important and persuasive. … This is what made Bloch’s disciples so exciting. They knew how to gain attention, how to communicate, how to market their ideas. They made medieval studies more accessible; they expanded the audience for the Middle Ages. And they legitimated just about any form, any technique, any gimmick for selling the Middle Ages to the educated public.

Cantor (1991) pp. 154-5. Padding the size of a relatively small book is a well-recognized marketing technique, as is dividing / serializing a work to increase items sold.

[23] Duby (1991) p. 174; Duby (1994a) p. 104. Duby further observed:

Study of the Middle Ages there {in America} is pushed forward with remarkable acuity. Principally it is the history of the culture, under its literary, artistic, religious, philosophical, and legal forms, so that at times history in the narrow sense, is relegated to secondary mapping, in particular that of societies. The Germanic tradition conserves there solid positions from which they look with astonishment and not without some reprobation at the way that the historians of the Annales school pose questions. We should not take lightly the reproaches launched, ironically, against “French impressionism.”

{ Elle y est menée avec une remarquable acuité. Principalement l’histoire de la culture, sous ses formes littéraires, artistiques, religieuses, philosophiques, juridiques, ce qui relègue parfois au second plan l’histoire au sens étroit, en particulier celle des sociétés. La tradition germanique conserve ici de solides positions d’où l’on regarde avec étonnement et non sans quelque réprobation la façon dont les historiens des Annales posent les questions. Ne prenons pas à la légère les reproches lancés, ironiquement, contre le french impressionism. }

Id. Duby’s claim that French men about the year 1180 became accustomed to treating women as persons seems too temporally precise to count as “French impressionism.”

Historians haven’t considered Duby’s works on medieval women sufficiently critically. Reviewing Duby’s L’histoire continue, an academic historian commented:

Its open-mindedness, its “cool reason,” make it an inviting volume for the beginning historian, and a fitting testimonial to a life well spent. Because nearly half the volume is devoted to graduate education and the thesis process and the tools of research, I recommend it especially to all beginning graduate students and those who advise them.

Simon (1997). Historians should learn to be more sensitive to rhetoric. Duby undoubtedly provides students with a good case study in historical rhetoric.

Duby’s work on medieval women has been influential in the U.S. His claim about absences of women’s voices and his totalitarian, gender dominance analysis has influenced even his critics:

We are all indebted to him, and on both sides of the Atlantic, for the legitimacy he conferred on the history of women. But in the final accounting, we can’t limit ourselves to the parameters he erected for treating it. To accept them as is would return to capitulate in front of the power to impose silence that dominant discourses tend to arrogate to themselves.

{ Nous lui sommes toutes, et des deux côtés de l’Atlantique, redevables de la légitimité qu’il a conférée à celle-ci. Mais en fin de compte, nous ne pouvons nous limiter aux paramètres qu’il a érigés pour en traiter. Les accepter tels quels reviendrait à capituler devant le pouvoir d’imposer le silence que les discours dominants tendent à s’arroger. }

Farmer (1998) para. 20, my English translation. With subtlety of perception like that of Duby as a scholar of medieval women, Sconduto complained in a review of Duby (1998): “all that we find in his book is a display of misogynism.” Livingstone, in contrast, credited Duby with an elegant, convincing vision of medieval women and stressed his importance for academic careers. She nonetheless pointed out that medieval reality of women was much different from Duby’s vision:

The studies of Georges Duby have been extremely important for American medievalists interested in the history of women. Through his numerous works, he imposed a convincing vision of the female experience in the Middle Ages. But despite its elegance, this vision calls for an reexamination. The studies of Georges Duby retain their importance to the extent that they have shown the way to a whole generation of researchers, who in following his works have better defined the place of women in the medieval world. Even more importantly, the attention that Georges Duby brought to women in medieval society firmly asserted the legitimacy of this theme in university careers. Historians will not forget what they owe him in this regard. But other researchers who have taken up the torch highlight a rather different picture of medieval women and their experience. They emphasize the influence and the very important place occupied by women. They dispute this characterization of “male” that Georges Duby proposed for the Middle Ages. Women were not “on the margins.” They were not the “other.” No, they were individuals well-established at the heart of the relationships structuring the society. And the important matter is exactly there: that researchers, from now on, “hear” the voices of medieval women and can restore them to the story of the past.

{ Les recherches de Georges Duby ont eu une extrême importance pour les médiévistes américains intéressés par l’histoire des femmes. Par ses nombreux travaux, il a imposé une vision convaincante de l’expérience féminine au Moyen Âge. Mais en dépit de son élégance, cette vision appelle un réexamen. Les recherches de G. Duby gardent leur importance dans la mesure où elles ont montré le chemin à toute une génération de chercheurs, qui en l’empruntant a mieux défini la place des femmes dans le monde médiéval. Plus important encore : l’attention que G. Duby a portée aux femmes dans la société médiévale a solidement assis la légitimité du thème dans les carrières universitaires – les historiens n’oublieront pas ce qu’ils lui doivent à cet égard. Mais d’autres chercheurs qui ont repris le flambeau dressent un tableau asez différent des femmes médiévales et de leur expérience. Ils soulignent l’influence, la place fort importante occupée par des femmes, ils contestent cette caractérisation de « mâle » que G. Duby a proposée pour le Moyen Âge. Les femmes n’étaient pas « en marge ». Elles n’étaient pas l’« autre ». Non, elles étaient des individus bien installés au coeur des rapports structurant la société. Et l’important est bien là : que les chercheurs, désormais, « entendent » les voix des femmes médiévales et puissent les restituer au récit du passé. }

Livingstone (1998) para. 16. Henry Adams regarded medieval women to be at the heart of medieval society. He heard their voices and made them central to the story of the medieval past.

[24] Ziolkowski (2018) thoroughly considers American medievalism and the growth of collegiate Gothic buildings at U.S. universities.

[25] According to Georges Duby, twelfth-century France had “a system of values obstinately subordinating the feminine to the masculine {un système de valeurs subordonnant obstinément le féminin au masculin}.” Moreover, any appearances to the contrary are a conspiracy of power. Duby thus warned about “the appearances of power that men abandoned to women so as to better dominate women {les apparences de pouvoir qu’ils leur abandonnèrent afin de les mieux dominer}.” Duby (1995a) pp. 121, 173; Duby (1997a) pp. 72, 103. That’s the rhetoric of an ideological system closed to the truth.

[images] (1) Georges Duby receiving an honorary doctorate degree from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Via Wikimedia Commons. Source image from the National Archives of the Netherlands. (2) Portrait of Elizabeth Sherman Cameron, beloved of Henry Adams. Painted by Anders Zorn in 1900. Courtesy of The Athenaeum. Via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Photographic portrait of Henry Adams about 1885 by William Notman. Via Wikimedia Commons. Source image preserved as Harvard University Archives, W384291_1. (4) Excerpt from handwritten notes found in an instance of Georges Duby’s The knight, the lady and the priest. The lined paper and notes being handwritten, as well as the sparse entries on date-due paste-in, suggest that the notes were probably made about the year 2000.


Adams, Henry. 1904. Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres. Published by authority of the American Institute of Architects, 1913. Twentieth impression, 1932. Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press.

Adams, Henry. 1907. The Education of Henry Adams. Oxford World Classics, 1999. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Adams, Henry and Mabel La Farge. 1920. Letters to a Niece and Prayer to the Virgin of Chartres, with a Niece’s Memoirs. London: Constable.

Adams, Henry. 1955. Mont-Saint-Michel et Chartres. Translated into French by Georges Fradier and Jacques Brosse. Paris: Laffont, 1955. French translation of Adams (1904).

Bohler, Danielle. 1998. “‘Je n’ai entrevu que des ombres flottantes, insaisissables…’ Le travail de l’écriture.” Clio: Femmes, Gentre, Historie. 8: Georges Duby et l’histoire des femmes. Online.

Cantor, Norman F. 1991. Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century. New York: William Morrow.

Cater, Harold Dean, ed. 1947. Henry Adams and His Friends: A Collection of His Unpublished Letters Compiled with a Biographical Introduction. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Chandler, Alice. 1970. A Dream of Order: The Medieval Ideal in Nineteenth-Century English Literature. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Duby, Georges. 1981. Le chevalier, la femme et le prêtre: le mariage dans la France féodale. Paris: France Loisirs. Translated into English as Duby (1983).

Duby, Georges. 1983. The knight, the lady and the priest: the making of modern marriage in medieval France. Translated by Barbara Bray, with an introduction by Natalie Zemon Davis. New York: Pantheon Books. English translation of Duby (1981).

Duby, Georges. 1988. Mâle Moyen Age: De l’amour et autres essais. Paris: Flammarion. Translated into English as Duby (1994b).

Duby, Georges. 1991. L’histoire continue. Paris: Éditions Odile Jacob. For English translation, Duby (1994). Translated into English as Duby (1994a).

Duby, Georges. 1994a. History Continues. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer, with a foreword and notes by John W. Baldwin. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. English translation of Duby (1991). Reviews: Simon (1997) and White (1995).

Duby Georges. 1994b. Love and Marriage in the Middle Ages. Translated by Jane Dunnett. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. English translation of Duby (1988).

Duby, Georges. 1995a. Dames du Xiie Siècle. I. Héloïse, Aliénor, Iseut et Quelques Autres. Paris: Gallimard. Translated into English as Duby (1997a).

Duby, Georges. 1995b. Dames du Xiie Siècle. II. Le souvenir des aïeules. Paris: Gallimard. Translated into English as Duby (1997b).

Duby, Georges. 1996. Dames du Xiie Siècle. III. Ève et les prêtres. Paris: Gallimard. Translated into English as Duby (1998).

Duby, Georges. 1997a. Women of the Twelfth Century. Volume 1: Eleanor of Aquitaine and six others. Translated by Jean Birrell. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. English translation of Duby (1995a). Reviews by Constance B. Bouchard and by Ann Kettle.

Duby, Georges. 1997b. Women of the Twelfth Century. Volume 2: Remembering the dead. Translated by Jean Birrell. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. English translation of Duby (1995b). Reviews by Ann Kettle and by Kim LoPrete.

Duby, Georges. 1998. Women of the Twelfth Century. Volume 3: Eve and the Church. Translated by Jean Birrell. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. English translation of Duby (1996). Reviews by Ann Kettle and by Leslie A. Sconduto.

Farmer, Sharon. 1998. “La voix des femmes. Une réception américaine.” Clio: Femmes, Gentre, Historie. 8: Georges Duby et l’histoire des femmes. Online.

Kay, Sarah. 1990. “Seduction and Suppression in ‘Ami et Amile.’” French Studies. 44(2): 129–142.

Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane, ed. 1992. Silences of the Middle Ages. Volume II of A History of Women in the West, Georges Duby and Michelle Perrot, general editors. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Levenson, J. C., Ernest Samuels, Charles VAndersee, Viola Hopkins Winner, eds. 1982-1988. The Letters of Henry Adams. 6 volumes: vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3, vol. 4, vol. 5, vol. 6. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Livingston, Amy. 1998. “Pour une révision du ‘mâle’ Moyen Âge de Georges Duby (États-Unis).” Clio: Femmes, Gentre, Historie. 8: Georges Duby et l’histoire des femmes. Online.

Manheim, Daniel L. 1990. “Motives of His Own: Henry Adams and the Genealogy of the Virgin.” The New England Quarterly. 63(4): 601–23.

Samuels, Ernest. 1964. Henry Adams: The Major Phase. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

Simon, Larry. 1997. “Review of Duby, History Continues.” Medieval Review. 97.06.05. Online.

White, Stephen D. 1995. “Review of Duby, History Continues.” Medieval Review. 95.07.07. Online.

Wrangham, Digby S., ed. and trans. 1881. The Liturgical Poetry of Adam of St. Victor: From the Text of Gautier. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, & Co. Vols. 1, 2, 3.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 2018. The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity. Vol. 1: The Middle Ages, Vol. 2: Medieval Meets Medievalism, Vol. 3: The American Middle Ages, Vol. 4: Picture That: Making a Show of the Jongleur, Vol. 5: Tumbling into the Twentieth Century, Vol. 6: War and Peace, Sex and Violence. Worldwide: OpenBook Publishers.

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