A Bowdlerising Reader (BNF fr. 837)

Another reader did not care for obscenities, and wished to protect other readers from them. When he found an obscene word in a text’s title or explicit, he would rub it out. Here, he has expunged the word ‘cons’ from the title ‘du chevalier qui fist les cons paller’.

Titulus with obscenity expunged
Paris, BNF, fr. 837 (pre 1300), f. 148v
Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France: http://gallica.bnf.fr/?

Here are the titles of texts he deemed obscene:
‘Du chevalier qui fist les cons paller’
‘De la dolente qui fu foutue (sur la fosse de son mari)’
‘Du con qui fu fez a la besche’
‘De la damoisele qui ne pooit oir parler de foutre’
‘Du cul et du con’
‘Du vit et de la couille’
‘Des vins doan’
‘De la couille noire’
‘Des cons’
‘De honte et de puterie’.

Although he found the word ‘vin’ to be obscene in this one instance, there are several other texts in the manuscript with the word ‘vin’ in the title that he left alone, whereas he did expunge the titles for the majority of what we would consider obscene titles.

Interestingly enough, he rarely expunged words within the text itself. This image shows the beginning of the text ‘des cons’, with the word ‘cons’ expunged from the title, but appearing twice immediately below it.

However, there was one text where he did attempt to make revisions within the text itself: ‘du vit et de la couille’. In these extracts, the obscenities ‘vit’, ‘couille’ and ‘con’ are circled. We can see that most of the instances of ‘vit’ are expunged; that the word ‘couille’ is sometimes expunged, sometimes not; that within this text, he rarely bothered to expunge the word ‘con’. This reader was not nearly as thorough in his censorship as the typical nineteenth-century bowdleriser.

Paris, BNF, fr. 837 (pre 1300), ff. 215r
Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France: http://gallica.bnf.fr/?

It is really fascinating having this insight into the relative degrees of obscenity one medieval reader believed different words had. As well as ‘vit’ being more obscene than ‘couille’ or ‘con’, we can also see that he thought that ‘con’ was more obscene than ‘cul’. For the explicit of ‘du cul et du con’, he expunged the word ‘con’, but not the word ‘cul’.

Next: a reader who put the obscenities back in

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