Fiction versus defamation: The quarrel over the tomance of the rose
Today's charges of blasphemy against Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen have pre-modern precedents and testify to the controversial power of fiction. This article explores the dynamics of one of the earliest European scandals over vernacular literature, The Romance of the Rose. It examines the social context of the fifteenth century Parisian court: why Christine de Pizan mounted a critique of a time-honoured romance then and there and how the local humanists, Jean de Montreuil and Gonthier Col, defended it. Their verbal struggle is an exercise in blaming, and it culminates in the accusation of blasphemy: not against the fiction, but against Christine's effort to assess the public merits of a work, in the manner of the censor in republican Rome. The article highlights two different principles in this much-studied affair: defamation and the sovereignty or majesty of fiction.
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