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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Unmoored interpretations : the consequences of (mis)reading in Emaré Sadowski, Kaja Margaret


This project examines how one fourteenth-century popular romance, Emaré, responds to contemporary concerns about interpretation and misreading through a close analysis of how correct and incorrect textual interpretation and its consequences are portrayed within the text. I am most interested in how the reading environment and reading practices of the fourteenth century, most especially the rapid increase in lay literacy and the inclusion of women in romance readership, turned popular romance in particular into a locus for concerns about (in)correct interpretation, and in the effect of these concerns on the romance texts themselves. How did romance writers respond to the charges being laid against their texts by contemporary critics? To what extent did they attempt to direct their readers' interpretation of these texts and prevent misreading? And how did the gender of both reader and writer affect how the text was perceived and utilized? In order to address these questions, I have performed close, historicized readings of three key episodes in Emaré: the Emperor’s misreading of Emaré’s wondrous robe, a female-authored text that makes use of a particularly feminine mode of production and is not easily readable by men such as the Emperor; Emaré’s mother-in-law’s deliberate misreading of her son’s letters; and Emaré’s final use of her son—a jointly-authored text produced by herself and her husband—to facilitate both understanding and reconciliation between herself and the two men most heavily implicated in the earlier episodes of misreading. By examining these moments within the broader context of cultural fears around the rise of female literacy and the popularity of vernacular romance, I have mapped how one such work presents a rehabilitative model of female and lay literacy. Emaré demonstrates, via the exemplary format favoured by texts of its genre, the dangers posed by disunity among female writers and male readers, and male writers and female readers, and the power that lies in an approach to reading that acknowledges both gendered lenses, and ultimately provides the sole means of correct interpretation and the moral redemption that comes with it.

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