The Catholic University of America Press

The Hero's Place

Medieval Literary Traditions of Space and Belonging

Molly Robinson Kelly

Cloth 978-0-8132-1685-0 $74.95
September 2009 In Print Add to Cart
E-Book 978-0-8132-1783-3 $74.95
August 2012 In Print Add to Cart

The Hero's Place presents an innovative study of how the spaces described in a literary work contribute dynamically and profoundly to that work's meaning. Three seminal works of the Middle Ages--The Life of Saint Alexis, The Song of Roland, and Tristan and Iseut--are closely analyzed from the vantage point of two distinct but interconnected ways of looking at space: that of spatiality (the objective "where" of the story), and that of place (space as it is subjectively and meaningfully experienced by the story's characters). Special attention is given to the sense of belonging to place as experienced by the works' three protagonists, Alexis, Roland, and Tristan, and to the ways in which their relationship with place informs their identity. The romance hero Tristan's highly problematic belonging to place represents a fundamental and previously overlooked aspect of his character, one that sets him apart both from his hagiographic peer, Alexis, and the epic Roland. While Alexis's and Roland's stories depict and indeed celebrate a strong connection to their respective home places of Rome and France, Tristan and Iseut tells a tale of profound placelessness and exile.

The Hero's Place offers historical context for the place-relationships of Alexis, Roland, and Tristan by examining the phenomena of pilgrimage and crusade, which developed contemporary to these works and are deeply expressive of the medieval experience of space. In addition, it brings together in original fashion the previously unconnected disciplines of literary studies and humanistic geography. Humanistic geography's analysis of how space is subjectively experienced adds a fresh dimension to literary studies. Theoretically resonant and philologically sound, The Hero's Place enriches our appreciation of place in literature while bringing new understanding to three beloved works of the Middle Ages.


Molly Robinson Kelly is assistant professor of French at Lewis and Clark College. She received her Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures from Princeton University, with a concentration in French literature of the Middle Ages.


"In impressively clear and far-reaching terms Molly Robinson Kelly explores the meaning of spatiality and place in medieval French and some German literature, indicating unmistakably the degree to which people and places are intimately connected. She presents a convincing interpretation of the Old French Life of Saint Alexis, the Chanson de Roland, and early versions of the Tristan legend in which the hero's performance is deeply determined by the space where his actions occur. Longing for space, or identity, strongly determines Roland and Tristan, but because of their distance to a 'homeland,' they powerfully reflect, through their tragic deaths, the significance of place as the ultimate marker of human existence. Robinson Kelly's readings of the Biblical and the high medieval texts stunningly prove their points and make us long for more insights concerning the impact of spatiality on life. The theoretical underpinnings offered here will serve intriguingly well for future literary analysis."----Albrecht Classen, University Distinguished Professor, University of Arizona

"Kelly offers a dynamic, far-reaching exploration of humanistic geography, of the meaning of spatiality and place in medieval French and some German literature. Her key texts are The Life of St. Alexis, The Song of Roland, and the Tristan and Iseult romance, and her argument that people--here literary characters like St. Alexis, Roland, and Tristan and Iseult--are intimately connected to places is stunning. The space in which the hero performs determines identity. In looking at the "where" of the story as well as the subjectively experienced "space" of each figure, the author offers new insights and brings new understanding to old texts. . . . Highly recommended."--R. Cormier, Choice

"This is an accessible study that interestingly explores how belonging is, in the case of all three protagonists, linked to exile and alienation. . . . [A] methodical exploration of a little-studied theme in some canonical Old French texts and, as such, constitutes a useful resource both for undergraduate teaching and for further research on the medieval literary depiction of space." --Emma Campbell, French Studies

Product Details

Pages:x, 320 pages

Dimensions:5.5x8.5 inches


CIP Information: 2009008083/ PQ155.P47K45 2009/ 840.9'353--dc22


1. French literature--To 1500--History and criticism

2. Personal space in literature