Fabliaux, Chaucer and “L’enfant de neige”


The fabliau is a short, usually anonymous and often funny tale made popular by traveling troubadours, or ‘jongleurs’ in medieval France (13th Century). Most fabliaux are up to 400 lines in length, and many were composed in octosyllabic rhymed couplets that were the standard narrative form of the period, but the form could vary – from simple linguistic playfulness and dirty jokes to complex comic developments and irreverent anecdotes. For the most part, a fabliau dealt with deception and revenge visited on the avaricious. They were enjoyed by peasants and nobles alike. Their reputation for being coarse and bawdy grew out of  their excessive use of sexual and scatological obscenity and their anticlericalism. Anyone interested in social history will find fabliaux fascinating reflections of daily life in the middle ages.

Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales”

Geoffrey Chaucer reworked several fabliau for his famous Cantebury Tales, the Miller’s Tale being a good example. Classic fabliaux characters include cuckolded husbands, avaricious clergy, and foolish peasants while seducers are never in short supply.  Fabliaux gradually disappeared as jongleurs lapsed into decline in the 14th Century.

“L’enfant de neige”  (a fabliau tale)

In “L’enfant de neige”  (the Snow Baby), a merchant returns home after an absence of two years to find his wife with a newborn son. She explains that one snowy day she swallowed a snowflake while thinking about her husband which caused her to conceive. Pretending to believe the “miracle”, they raise the boy until the age of 15 when the merchant takes him on a business trip to Genoa where he sells the boy into slavery.  On his return, he explains to his wife that the sun burns bright and hot in Italy and, since he was begotten by a snowflake, he melted in the heat.


Ref: Balachov, Nicolas (1984). “Le developpement des structures narratives du fabliau a la nouvelle”. In Gabriel Bianciotto, Michel Salvat. Épopée animale, fable, fabliau. Publication Univ Rouen Havre. pp. 30–38. ISBN 978-2-13-038255-3. Retrieved 2010-03-22.


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