The Story – – – At a time when women were often considered less than a commodity the farmer’s cow or the nobleman’s land prized above a wife or daughter, Marie de France, by sheer force of will and bolstered by what she believed were divine visions, created a religious stronghold where women were not only safe but valued as industrious leaders. Considered an unmarriageable orphan within the court of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine relegated Marie to a nunnery. But rather than allow herself to be forgotten, Marie transformed the impoverished abbey, where the nuns were dying of starvation when she arrived, into a religious center where women illuminated manuscripts (considered a task suitable only for men) and built a cathedral.
While written as fiction, Lauren Groff’s protagonist did exist in the real life of the 12th century although little is known of Marie. Even her name has been lost to the centuries as she is simply dubbed Marie de France. Reputable sources – the British Library and the Encyclopedia Britannitica – consider her the earliest known French female poet.
Our Matrix book discussions occurred during two gatherings, the first when The Directors – my library loving, book reading, wine-drinking group of retired friends – ventured into the frigid January weather for soup in St. Paul. But we were too starved of lively catch-up banter to give this title our focused concentration and hence came back to it on another frigid day, this time over Zoom with everyone snug at home. Everyone agreed Groff’s stylized writing flowed lyrically off the page even if the degree of enjoyment brought by this “read” varied.