Thoroughly modern Marie: Matrix, by Lauren Groff, reviewed

It is 1158. A 17-year-old girl, born of both rape and royal blood, is cast out of the French court and condemned to spend her days in a threadbare abbey in England. She will go on to become abbess and one of the dominant forces in the land, transforming her abbey from a shack into an institution grown fat on holy power. The girl is Marie de France, loosely based on the 12th-century poet, about whom very little is known. Into history’s silence steps the American novelist Lauren Groff, who imagines a character who seems remarkably familiar. For Marie is a strong, feminist lesbian, who doesn’t fit into her era’s

How Foucault was shielded from scandal by French reverence for intellectuals

Consider the hare and the hyena. The hare, Clement of Alexandria told readers of his 2nd-century sexual self-help manual Paedagogus, was thought to possess both male and female sexes and swapped their roles from year to year. As for the hyena, it was believed to acquire an extra anus annually and ‘to make the worst use of these added orifices’, as Michel Foucault puts it in the newly translated fourth volume of his History of Sexuality. For early church theologians the moral lesson was clear: we must not emulate gender-bending hares or randy hyenas. Rather, sex should be procreative, not pleasurable; we must go forth and multiply, borne by duty,