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In the Old French fabliaux tradition, sex acts and generic conventions intersect, revealing strategies of power. For example, Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale, a Middle English text that is informed by fabliaux conventions, follows the sexual desires and exchanges of power between men, in the context of a frame narrative that privileges competition between the men of The Canterbury Tales, which is located within English literary canons dominated by men. In “The Kiss,” Patience Agbabi’s modern retelling of The Miller’s Tale, the central woman of the narrative assumes authorial control, and she privileges sex acts that empower women’s voices while both rendering the sexual figurations of Chaucer’s text more literal, and adhering more closely to Old French fabliaux conventions. Agbabi encodes cunnilingus through different languages, including French, Latin, Braille, and English slang, representing the diverse cultural influences that inform English literary traditions, including texts such as The Canterbury Tales. Situating her medievalism, Telling Tales, within a literary genealogy emerging from Chaucer, Caxton, and Shakespeare, Agbabi cites the subversive nature of her source texts to disrupt modern social hierarchies, such as male-dominated literary traditions. The intersections of sexual satisfaction and literary production in “The Kiss,” privilege women’s standpoints.
Thank you to the anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback, and to my colleagues Karen Quandt, Eric Freeze, and Brian Tucker for helping me with my French sources. Any remaining errors are my own.
Chaucer, Miller, cunnilingus, medievalism
Pavlinich, Elan J. "The Cunning Linguist of Agbabi’s “The Kiss”." Medieval Feminist Forum: A Journal of Gender and Sexuality 57, No. 2 (2022) : 110-140.