#LadyPower in Marie de France’s “Yonec”

In “Yonec,” one of the twelve poems included in The Lais of Marie de France, Marie crafts a short but fascinating narrative that includes characters from the otherworld and explores themes like jealousy, love, and rebellion. If you haven’t read “Yonec,” give it a try! It’s only a few pages long, but as I’m going to demonstrate in this article, there’s a lot you can unpack.

At the beginning of the poem, a lady makes a speech that expresses her frustration with her situation. And her emotions are completely valid—this lady lives with an oppressive husband who controls essentially every aspect of her life. She’s completely isolated.

While the poem was likely written in the late twelfth century, the inquiries that can be derived from the text are timeless. Here’s a more in-depth understanding of the lady’s lament and its implications in Marie’s narrative poem.

At the beginning of her speech, the lady expresses frustration and aggrievement. Her strong feelings of isolation are apparent as she verbalizes her distress:

‘Alas,’ she said, ‘that ever I was born! My destiny is hard indeed. I am a prisoner in this tower and death alone will free me. What is this jealous old man afraid of, to keep me so securely imprisoned? He is extremely stupid and foolish, always fearing that he will be betrayed. I can neither go to church nor hear God’s service. I could put on a friendly mien for him, even without any desire to do so, if I could talk to people and join them in amusement. (Marie 87)

Until the events that follow her speech, the lady’s actions were dictated by her controlling husband. Because of her husband’s jealousy and his abuse of patriarchal power, the lady was essentially separated from the rest of society. He had locked her in a tower for seven years, did not permit her to see her family and friends, and had his sister act like the lady’s prison guard. His mistreatment of his authority resulted in  misery for the lady, a woman he supposedly loved.

The lady also seems to take agency over her isolation.

However, the lady also seems to take agency over her isolation. The lady’s husband secluded her from all company, but the lady is aware that he was not the only person involved in her predicament. She continues her speech by cursing her relatives. In imprecating her relations, the lady isolates herself from her social environment; while she is already physically separated from society, the lady creates space from others through her speech. Her words seem to be a retaliation to her relations, as they allowed her marriage to the jealous man to take place, and the match was likely made against her will. 

The lady’s strong emotions of frustration and loneliness—feelings that arose from her unjust situation and her husband’s ill-treatment towards her—inspire rebellion. In the last part of her lament, the lady makes a wish:

I have often heard tell that in this country one used to encounter adventures which relieved those afflicted by care: knights discovered maidens to their liking, noble and fair, and ladies found handsome and courtly lovers, worthy and valiant men.  There was no fear of reproach and they alone could see them. If this can be and ever was, if it ever did happen to anyone, may almighty God grant my wish! (Marie 87)

She hopes for a knight, with characteristics that differ greatly from her husband, to discover her and become her lover. Subsequently, a hawk arrives and transforms into a handsome knight who fulfills her wish. It is interesting to note that the hawk can be seen as a symbol of freedom, as the lady had claimed that death alone could free her; the knight provides a way for the lady to gain the freedom that she wished for, even though she did not think she could achieve it without death. The knight and the lady soon enter into an adulterous relationship and continue to see each other until their affair is discovered by the jealous man’s sister. 

Marie illustrates the power of the lady’s conviction through the implications of the lady’s speech. It is through her imagination that the woman can call upon the knight to her tower. In “The Power of Feminine Anger in Marie de France’s ‘Yonec’ and ‘Guigemar,” Jennifer Willging writes about how Marie does not set apart reality and the imagination, which in turn demonstrates her refusal to support the idea that the mind and body are separated, a concept that twelfth-century theology promoted.

The woman is human, yet she can summon the knight. Furthermore, the knight has aspects of the otherworldly, but he is able to have a child with the lady. Marie’s story gives power and agency to the woman, as the consequences of the lady’s speech produce the remaining plot, and she contradicts the idea that femininity equals irrationality. 

Furthermore, the adulterous relationship between the knight and the lady could be considered an act of rebellion in response to her husband’s abuse of patriarchal power. Rather than framing the woman in a negative light for her rebellious infidelity, the woman’s actions are seen as just. After their passing, the knight and the lady are honored and remembered for their love.

In the narrative, the lady is not depicted as illogical or hysterical, and her strong emotions are what allows her to escape from her controlling husband.

The story frames the lady and knight as the protagonists, while the lady’s husband is the evil and irrational character. Thus, the lady’s anger and her actions that result from her frustration are depicted as intuitive and acceptable responses to the unfortunate situation she was in. In the narrative, the lady is not depicted as illogical or hysterical, and her strong emotions are what allows her to escape from her controlling husband. 

By analyzing how Marie included the concepts of isolation, rebellion, and imagination in “Yonec,” we can see how “Yonec” demonstrates the power of the woman’s speech and validates the actions that stem from feminine feelings. Thus, we can see “Yonec” as a celebration of individual agency and imagination that considers the significance of rebellion stemming as a response to abused power and legitimate emotions. 

Works Cited

Marie, et al. The Lais of Marie De France. Penguin Books Ltd, 1999. Willging, Jennifer. 

Returning to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl 10 Years Later

by Isa Meyers //

My middle and early high school years, like most teens growing up in the 2010s, were filled with cheesy YA romance novels. I flew through Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games in a matter of days. I became obsessed with The Perks of Being A Wallflower and its movie adaptation released in 2012 starring Harry Potter’s Emma Watson and Percy Jackson’s Logan Lerman. But we all know who transformed YA coming of age literature: John Green.

John Green is most commonly known for his books Looking For Alaska, Paper Towns, and The Fault in Our Stars (TFIOS). All three of these novels received major screen time as well. Most recently, Looking For Alaska was adapted into a Hulu mini-series, premiering in fall 2019. Even if you aren’t a Green reader, you know of him and you definitely could recognize the iconic blue and white jacket cover of TFIOS. John, and his brother Hank Green, still create content today for both YouTube and TikTok, continuing their legacy as “Vlogbrothers.” 

It’s been exactly a decade since my deep dive into many different YA fandoms. And while I wouldn’t change my romance-filled, dystopian-obsessed, YA-novel-centric adolescence, I now have come to terms that these books played a large role in how I constructed my own femininity. In short, Green’s characters, especially Alaska Young of Looking For Alaska and Margo Roth Spiegelman of Paper Towns, made me long to be the quirky sidekick and the romantic pursuit of a struggling young boy. 

During the time Green wrote these novels, this trope was not new by any means. Film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” when writing about Kristen Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown (2005). He says that the stock character of “The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”

Green’s books made me wish I experienced tragedy in order to mark myself as different, as though my desirability relied on these outlandish (but also terribly clichéd) relationships between white, male protagonists and their alluring and mysterious love interests. I thought that you had to be quirky (and missing) like Margo to be noticed, or dark and perceptive like Alaska with her affinity for books (that I forced myself to try and read too) to be attractive. Because who doesn’t want to be the main love interest of a YA romance?

Green states that his book and film adaptation were meant to directly juxtapose this sexist trope: “Paper Towns is devoted in its entirety to destroying the lie of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl… I do not know how I could have been less ambiguous about this without calling the novel The Patriarchal Lie of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Must Be Stabbed in the Heart and Killed.” The Manic Pixie Dream Girl, in Green’s words, is a patriarchal lie. And I agree. Female characters do not need to apologize for their femininity. But the reality is that nearly all of Green’s early protagonists and narrators are white, young men who are lost in this so-called adventure of life. Quentin (“Q”) Jacobsen of Paper Towns and Miles (“Pudge”) Halter of Looking For Alaska rely on their Manic Pixie Dream Girl counterparts to make them whole again.

In Paper Towns, after spending the entire novel trying to track Margo down, Q finally professes his love to her, in which she replies “You don’t even know me.” What Green is getting at is that Q built this ideal image of this girl in his head, only to realize that it was, indeed, idealized. In this sense, Green attempts to flip the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope on its head to indicate Q’s shortcomings. In other words, no one can teach him how to live his own life. Only he can. Yet, journalist Anna Leszkiewicz writes: “When we leave the novel, Margo still isn’t given a voice. In the movie, Q acknowledges that Margo could be anywhere in the world by now, ‘but that’s her story to tell.’ Of course, the film finishes before she has the chance. We know less about her at the plot’s close than we did at the start, only, now, we know we know less.” While Q’s character arc aims to debunk his patriarchal notions regarding women, he still needs Margo to teach him this, to teach him that she doesn’t solely exist for him. And like Leszkiewicz says, Margo is still denied agency and an actual personality. 

Alaska, similarly, is the perfect embodiment of the phrase “she’s not like the other girls.” Because it’s true, she’s not. At Green’s fictional Culver Creek Academy, Alaska is an enigma who stuns Miles with her witticism, beauty, and complexity. She is marked by tragedy, something Miles knows nothing about until Green kills Alaska in order to teach Miles this lesson about love and loss. Student Phoebe Yates for The Tufts’s Daily argues: “Certainly, if she were a living, breathing person, Alaska would be complex and multi-faceted. Instead, she comes across as two-dimensional—all meaningful looks and wooden feminist one-liners.” Alaska actually had to die for him.

I do recognize that even naming this trope strips these female characters of any agency and that it is unfair to them. Rabin actually released a formal apology for creating a term that is itself a way to minimize femininity. Elle writer Meghan Friedman summarizes: “A character can be free-spirited and female simultaneously, without existing solely for a male. And that’s why Rabin is calling for the ‘erasure’ of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Instead, he says, ‘let’s all try to write better, more nuanced and multidimensional female characters.’” However, it’s hard for me to view Margo and Alaska in particular as multi-faceted when they were written by an adult male author whose main characters all seem to vaguely serve as a conduit for his past teenage self. Looking For Alaska’s plot is actually inspired and driven by Green’s boarding school experience at Indian Springs outside of Birmingham, Alabama. In short, even if Margo and Alaska are not Manic Pixie Dream Girls, their construction by Green is still rooted in unachievable standards of femininity inspired by, and designed for, the white, male gaze.

It’s naive to “blame” Green for my teenage insecurities. I could have taken the books at face value. Even without these novels, I probably would have had the same complexes and personality crises throughout puberty. It’s funny, in hindsight, to see how badly I wanted to be unique and complicated when I no longer need male validation for my personality and existence. 

Simply put, I wouldn’t change my childhood or it’s reading list. In fact, Looking For Alaska did provide comfort to me following the loss of a childhood friend at age 16. These books offered me the vocabulary to express notions of grief and loss in a way I might not have understood when communicating with adults alone. 

While, hopefully, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is on her way out of white, straight, male authors’ imaginations and as vocabulary for the critique of film and literature, we still have to reckon with the institutional facilitation of femininity within the media. A start would be to recognize, support, and fund female authors, directors, and screenwriters, and especially queer female artists of color. 

To all female young adults out there, read. Read a lot. Read John Green if you wish. But know that you are more unique than any female love interest a middle-aged, white, straight man could possibly conceive of. You deserve more.

The Fixed Mindset: The Danger of Stereotyping Individuals and Stymying Growth

In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, author Carol Dweck informatively discusses the differences between the growth mindset and the fixed mindset, and she demonstrates how having the former will allow individuals to reach their full potential. Dweck asserts that someone with a growth mindset believes that their basic qualities are things that can be cultivated through effort, strategies, and support from others, while someone with a fixed mindset believes that their attributes are set in stone. Thus, having a fixed mindset leads individuals to need to prove themselves time and time again: “If you only have a certain amount of intelligence, a certain personality, and a certain moral character–well, then you’d better prove that you have a healthy dose of them.”

Having a growth mindset hardly comes easy when stereotypes perpetuate the notion that certain people are a certain way

But how do these mindsets play a role in society? Sure, people with a growth mindset are able to improve because they already have confidence that they can. Even so, having a growth mindset hardly comes easy when stereotypes perpetuate the notion that certain people are a certain way. In her book, Dweck clearly outlines the danger of this type of thinking, and the studies that she cites are startling. Dweck writes: “No one knows about negative ability labels like members of stereotyped groups… But I’m not sure even they know how creepy these stereotypes are.” 

According to research conducted by Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson, simply checking a box to specify your sex or race can prompt the stereotype in our minds and decrease test performance; the reminder of being black or female right before taking an exam on a subject that you’re stereotypically not supposed to be good at can hurt your test-taking abilities. In Steele and Aronson’s studies, they found that “blacks are equal to whites in their performance, and females are equal to males when no stereotype is evoked. But just put more males in the room with a female before a math test, and down goes the female’s score.”

Stereotypes push the idea that particular people have specific traits, and there doesn’t seem to be any wiggle room—they’re fixed, oversimplified notions. When individuals are reminded of these stereotypes, it’s damaging; stereotypes are exclusive, and they make people feel like they don’t belong: “Many minorities drop out of college and many women drop out of math and science because they just don’t feel they fit in.” 

Thus, stereotypes create gaps in certain fields. The gender gap in math and science is largely due to the prevailing sexism and unfounded belief that women are bad at STEM subjects. According to Catalyst, which drew on information from the National Science Foundation, “women in the United States made up only 29% of those employed in science and engineering occupations in 2017.” While Dweck acknowledges that society doesn’t make it easy for people to dismiss the fixed mindset, she illustrates how a growth mindset is a powerful tool for everyone, but especially for people, like women, who are placed in boxes by society, as people with a growth mindset are able to feel a stronger, more secure sense of belonging: “Math and science need to be made more hospitable places for women. And women need all the growth mindset they can get to take their rightful places in these fields.”

Meet the Female Characters in Shakespeare’s Richard the Second

William Shakespeare is one of the most popular playwrights of all time, and his writing continues to be a source of inspiration for further questions of study. In his work The Life and Death of King Richard the Second, the power of effective language is a critical part of the play, and one of the richest elements of the piece is the inclusion of three female characters: the Duchess of Gloucester, the Duchess of York, and Queen Isabel. While women weren’t historically given a place in political life, Shakespeare seems to highlight their lack of presence in the political sphere and ask the audience to consider their importance in the civic and domestic domains. Here’s a quick guide to the women in Richard II and how their small roles actually make a big statement.

The Duchess of Gloucester

At the beginning of the play, we find out that Thomas of Woodstock has been murdered. His wife, the Duchess of Gloucester, urges John of Gaunt (Thomas’ brother) to avenge his death. While the Duchess of Gloucester is not successful in convincing Thomas’ brother, her language is still powerful and skillfully executed, and she gives reasons and evidence as to why her husband’s death should be avenged by John:

In suff’ring thus thy brother to be slaughtered,

Thou show’st the naked pathway to thy life,

Teaching stern murder how to butcher thee.

The Norton Shakespeare 3rd Edition, edited by Stephen Greenblatt, et al., (1.2.31-32)

The Duchess of York

The Duchess of York quickly exhibits her noncompliant personality and strong rhetorical skills when she protects her son, Aumerle. Aumerle was caught plotting against Bolingbroke, the man who would ultimately overthrow Richard II, and his father, the Duke of York, did not approve of his actions—so much so that he wanted to handover Aumerle to Bolingbroke no matter what type of punishment his son would receive. The Duchess of York relentlessly defends her son despite her husband’s command to stop; when the Duke telles her “Peace, foolish woman,” the Duchess of York responds, “I will not peace” (5.2.81-82). When the Duchess speaks to Bolingbroke, she refuses to yield to a man’s command for a second time:

BOLINGBROKE: Good aunt, stand up.

DUCHESS of YORK: Nay, do not say, “Stand up”

But “Pardon” first, and afterwards “Stand up.”


The Duchess of York also presents a compelling argument against the Duke of York by expressing York’s insincerity and asserting that York cannot love anyone else if he cannot even love his own son. This strong reasoning emphasizes the Duchess of York’s rhetorical skills, and through this and her persistence, she is able to convince Bolingbroke to pardon Aumerle.

Queen Isabel

While the queen lacks a role in the political sphere, she is intuitive, and before her husband is overthrown, she is able to sense that something is amiss and misfortune might be coming. When she expresses her worries to one of Richard’s friends, he dismisses her words and claims that she can’t see the situation properly due to her grief. He compares her viewpoint to a perspective glass that alters the reality of true things, suggesting that the queen is confused. However, in time we find out that Queen Isabel’s intuition was correct. It is striking to note that Queen Isabel’s part is noticeably historically inaccurate. When the historical Bolingbroke unseated Richard II, Queen Isabel was ten years old. In crafting a mature character who can predict things that men could not, Shakespeare seems to underscore the importance of the female perspective. 

Final Thoughts

As displayed through their effective ability to wield language, the women proved that their arguments are not something that should be dismissed. Furthermore, the female characters allow us to analyze the historical role of women in politics and question their presence, or lack thereof, in the political sphere. Had the Duchess of York been absent or had Queen Isabel been granted a larger role in political affairs, perhaps the outcome of the play would have been quite different. Thus, we can see Richard II as a play that considers the significance of including diverse perspectives and becoming more aware of certain voices—specifically women’s speech.