Rehabilitating the Witch: The Literary Representation of the Witch from the "Malleus Maleficarum" to "Les Enfants du sabbat"
Blomquist, Lisa Travis
Doctor of Philosophy
The representation of the witch in French literature has evolved considerably over the centuries. While originally portrayed as a benevolent and caring healer in works by Marie de France, Chrétien de Troyes, and the anonymous author of Amadas et Ydoine , the witch eventually underwent a dramatic and unfortunate transformation. By the fifteenth century, authors began to portray her as a malevolent and dangerous agent of the Christian Devil. Martin Le Franc, Pierre de Ronsard, Joachim du Bellay, François Rabelais, and Pierre Corneille all created evil witch figures that corresponded with this new definition. It was not until the eighteenth century, through the works of Voltaire and the Encyclopédistes, that the rehabilitation of the witch began. By the twentieth century, Anne Hébert, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maryse Condé, and Sebastiano Vassalli began to rewrite the witch character by engaging in a process of demystification and by demonstrating that the "witch" was really just a victim of the society in which she lived. These authors humanized their witch figures by concentrating on the victimization of their witch protagonists and by exposing the ways in which their fictional societies unjustly created identities for their witch protagonists that were based on false judgments and rumors. Hébert attacks Sigmund Freud's association of the witch and the hysteric, Sartre utilizes his witches to expose many of his existential ideals, Condé highlights the role that racism played in witchcraft, and Vassalli strives to rewrite history by telling the story from the point of view of his witch character. Each twentieth-century author provides a story that deconstructs the very nature of the witch as this had been constructed over time, and shows how witches expose the problems associated with understanding one's place in the world in both their individual and their social dimensions. The witch, for these authors, challenges dominant norms and reveals how much our identities are influenced by our interactions with other individuals. And, because the witches in each text are marginal beings, they expose the repressiveness of their particular environments and the idiosyncrasies of their cultures. In all these ways, or so these 20 th -century authors contend, we as modern readers, can relate to their situations and learn from their stories.