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March 11 , 2008

Jean de Saintre

A Late Medieval Education in Love and Chivalry


Written in 1456 and purporting to be the biography of the actual fourteenth-century knight of its title, Jean de Saintré has been called the first modern novel in French and one of the first historical novels in any language. Taken in hand at the age of thirteen by an older and much more experienced lady, Madame des Belles Cousines, the youth grows into an accomplished knight, winning numerous tournaments and even leading a crusade against the infidels for the love of Madame. When he reaches maturity, Jean starts to rebel against Madame's domination by seeking out chivalric adventures on his own. She storms off to her country estates and takes up with the burly abbot of a nearby monastery. The text moves into darker and uncourtly territory when Jean discovers their liaison and lashes out to avenge his lost love and honor, ruining Madame's reputation in the process.

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Composed in the waning years of chivalry and at the threshold of the print revolution, Jean de Saintré incorporates disquisitions on sin and virtue, advice on hygiene and fashion, as well as lengthy set pieces of chivalric combat. Antoine de La Sale, who was, by turns, a page, a royal tutor, a soldier, and a judge at tournaments, embellished his text with wide-ranging insights into chivalric ideology, combat techniques, heraldry and warfare, and the moral training of a young knight. This superb translation—the first in nearly a hundred years—contextualizes the story with a rich introduction and a glossary and is suitable for scholars, students, and general readers alike. An encyclopedic compilation of medieval culture and a window into the lost world of chivalry, Jean de Saintré is a touchstone for both the late Middle Ages and the emergence of the modern novel.

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