Legal Fictions: Literature and Law in Grisel y Mirabella

Legal Fictions: Literature and Law in Grisel y Mirabella

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Legal Fictions: Literature and Law in Grisel y Mirabella

By Helen Cathleen Tarp (Idaho State University)

eHumanista: Journal of Iberian Studies vol.7 (2006)


Romance, fantastic tales recounting the magical adventures and sometimes fatal loves of an idealized aristocracy, was, as Scordilis Brownlee affirms, “one of the most protean and long-lived [genres] in Western European Literature” (viii). Despite its popularity, or perhaps because of its universal appeal, romance has traditionally been disparaged, condemned as at best frivolous and at worst pernicious by “contemporary guardians of taste and learning” (Frye 23). Modern critics have a different perception of romance. Northrop Frye considers it to be “the structural core of all fiction” (15). Joseph Gwara & Michael Gerli recognize it as “a touchstone for understanding the development of European imaginative prose” (xiii) and Alan Deyermond has discussed the symbiotic relationship between Peninsular romance and the society that produced it: “The effect of the genre on life was even stronger than its literary influence” (239).

An intimate relationship between romance and life –and their mutually evocative influences– is especially evident in the parallel development of literary and legal narratives in the Middle Ages. Referring to Grimalte Y Gradissa , Joseph E. Gillet was the first to credit Juan de Flores with creating a relationship between text and reader in his romances, where “fiction overflows its frame into the reality outside” and reality “may suddenly emerge from fiction” (180). Flores’ works, in fact, personify the truly symbiotic relationship between literature and life in the Middle Ages. To the medieval mind, the frontiers between ‘legal’ and ‘literary’ matters were more fluid than we perceive them to be today. Medieval scholars and writers of romance, were clearly conscious of the “reciprocity of influence” between law and literature (Balsamo xiii).

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