Marie de France – Pioneering 12th Century Female Writer

Marie de France
Marie de France, as illustrated by Richard de Verdun, a contemporary of Marie’s. (Bibliothèque nationale de France:, Ms. 3142 fol. 256.)

Hastings Book Festival, in partnership with Explore the Arch and Bexhill Museum, presents a short season of talks to accompany Marie in the Margins – a remarkable video installation inspired by the life and work of Marie de France, our first known female writer of ‘adventure stories’

One of the earliest known female writers, twelfth-century adventure author Dame Marie, lived in a rapidly changing historical period partly triggered by successive waves of migration across the channel to England after the Norman conquest of 1066.​

Dame Marie pioneered an innovative writing style. Her adventure stories, known as ‘lais’, are short narrative poems, notable for their celebration of love, individuality of character, and vividness of description, hallmarks of the emerging literature of the times.

Female illustrators were her contemporaries, working to illuminate manuscripts with exquisite margins.  She lives on in the minds of female innovators inhabiting live-work spaces on the fertile margins along the Sussex Coast today.

The talks all start at 2.00pm, but you have time to see the video installation first, as it will be viewable from 12.00 noon on 18, 21, 22 and 24 September. Details on our Events Page.

Video installation viewing: From 12.00 noon

Marie In The Margins: An ExploreTheArch video installation by Gail Borrow. In this video installation, three women artists working in the creative industries in Hastings explore their cultural forebears within their own practices: Inspired by the work of England’s earliest known female adventure writer Dame Marie, also known as Marie de France, and a forgotten workforce of twelfth-century female scribes & illustrators.

Talks: From 2.00pm

Sunday 17 September: Marie in the Margins historian Dr Emily Joan Ward discusses her new book, Royal Childhood and Child Kingship: Boy Kings in England, Scotland, France and Germany, c.1050–1262, and children’s importance within medieval society. She also talks about the Marie in the Margins schools workshops and engaging modern children with the wider historical context of 11th and 12th century England.

Thursday 22 September: Marie in the Margins video installation director Gail Borrow discusses how she has approached this portrayal of a female cultural workforce. Exploring Marie de France’s collection of twelfth-century lai stories through the lens of modern cultural innovators, she considers portrayal of women writers and the symbolism they seek for their female characters.

Saturday 24 September: Marie in the Margins film composer Ruby Colley discusses how she has approached composition for this film inspired by twelfth-century adventure writer, Marie de France. She’ll consider articulation of female empowerment and themes in Dame Marie’s writing.

You are invited to view the installation from 12 noon in the Bexhill Museum education room, with the talks beginning at 2:00pm.

Admission is free, but please book in advance online via the Hastings Book Festival website (link here) as space is limited.​ Free bookings for the installation & talk do not include admissions to the Museum galleries, which are normal ticket prices.

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