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The Conte du Graal Cycle

The Conte du Graal Cycle: Chrétien de Troyes's Perceval, the Continuations, and French Arthurian Romance

Series: Gallica
Volume: 23
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The Conte du Graal Cycle
    Book Description:

    Chrétien de Troyes's late twelfth-century Conte du Graal has inspired writers and scholars from the moment of its composition to the present day. The challenge represented by its unfinished state was quickly taken up, and over the next fifty years the romance was supplemented by a number of continuations and prologues, which eventually came to dwarf Chrétien's text. In one of the first studies to treat the Conte du Graal and its continuations as a unified work, Thomas Hinton considers the whole corpus as a narrative cycle. Through a combination of close textual readings and manuscript analysis, the author argues that the unity of the narrative depends on a balanced tension between centripetal and centrifugal dynamics. He traces how the authors, scribes and illuminators of the cycle worked to produce coherence, even as they contended with potentially disruptive forces: multiple authorship, differences of intention, and changes in the relation between text, audience and book. Finally, he tackles the long-held orthodoxy that places the Perceval Continuations on the margins of literary history. Widening the scope of enquiry to consider the corpus's influence on thirteenth-century verse romances, this study re-situates the Conte du Graal cycle as a vital element in the evolution of Arthurian literature. Thomas Hinton is Junior Research Fellow in Modern Languages at Jesus College, Oxford.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-212-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
    (pp. vii-vii)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    The subject of this book is a literary corpus whose character is a challenge to definition, beginning with the matter of its title. What I refer to throughout as the Conte du Graal cycle is a constellation of texts, found in different combinations in different manuscripts, which tell the story of Perceval from his first encounters with knighthood and the mysteries of the Grail to his eventual succession to the Fisher King’s throne and death as a hermit, interspersed with the adventures of other knights, chiefly Gauvain. The first move in this narrative game is Chrétien de Troyes’s Conte du...

  8. 1 Narrative Aesthetic and Cyclic Formation
    (pp. 29-69)

    In this chapter I will examine how narrative aesthetic is created, promoted and contested at different points in the Conte du Graal cycle. Such a long text, with multiple authors, will inevitably change as it progresses, with successive authors choosing how to develop the narrative project inherited from their predecessors. Moreover, parts of the corpus were substantially rewritten, perhaps several times over, during the text’s manuscript transmission. The following discussion will track this complex process, arguing that the cyclification of the Conte du Graal material is characterised by the imposition of two related narrative structures onto earlier, more centrifugal material:...

  9. 2 Manuscripts, Memory and Textual Transmission
    (pp. 70-110)

    In the prologue to his Roman de Troie, Benoît de Sainte-Maure recounts how Cornelius, nephew of Sallust, came across Dares Phrygias’s eyewitness account of the fall of Troy one day while browsing for grammar books in a bookcase. As Benoît tells it, Dares felt compelled to leave a written record of the events he was witnessing:

    Por ço qu’il vit si grant l’afaire

    Que ainz ne puis ne fu nus maire,

    Si voust les faiz metre en memoire;

    En grezeiz en escrist l’estoire.¹

    [Seeing that these were the most significant events that there had ever been, or would ever be,...

  10. 3 Authorship, Kinship and the Ethics of Continuation
    (pp. 111-162)

    Thus far I have deliberately set aside in-depth discussion of the authors of our cycle. This has allowed consideration of the whole corpus as a coherent and self-sufficient textual body; by stripping away the literary capital that has accrued (or failed to accrue) to the cycle’s various authors, Chrétien’s contribution could be considered on an equal footing with that of the continuators, offering an alternative to the overwhelming critical tendency to study the corpus through the specific lens of Chrétien scholarship. Nevertheless, as Matilda Bruckner reminds us, romance intertextuality can be understood as ‘a dynamic play operating between anonymous and...

  11. 4 Rereading the Evolution of Arthurian Verse Romance
    (pp. 163-217)

    The narrator of the thirteenth-century Arthurian verse romance Hunbaut presents himself as having been engaged in friendly rivalry with Chrétien de Troyes:

    Ne dira nus hon que je robe

    Les bons dis Crestïen de Troies

    Qui jeta anbesas et troies

    Por le maistr[i]e avoir deu jeu,

    Et juames por ce maint jeu. (Hunbaut, vv. 186–90)

    [No man will say that I am stealing the good words of Chrétien de Troyes, who threw twos and threes to gain mastery of the game; we played many games in this way.]

    By juxtaposing a reference to Chrétien’s textual production with the description...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 218-228)

    Cervantes’ canon gave his summary judgment on chivalric romance over four hundred years ago, but the distaste shown for the narrative structure of such texts is strikingly similar to the reservations expressed by many modern readers of thirteenth-century Arthurian literature. Indeed, it was not until the second half of the twentieth century that scholars began to develop a taste for, and an appreciation of, the lengthy and often repetitive adventures of Arthurian narratives. Norris Lacy offers the case of John Steinbeck’s protracted attempts to modernise Malory as an example of the aesthetic challenges that medieval romance can pose today.² Beginning...

  13. Appendix 1: Narrative Summaries
    (pp. 229-243)
  14. Appendix 2: Lengths and Dates of Texts
    (pp. 244-244)
  15. Appendix 3: Manuscript of the Conte du Graal Cycle (excluding fragments)
    (pp. 245-245)
  16. Appendix 4: Full Contents of Conte du Graal Cycle Manuscripts
    (pp. 246-249)
  17. Appendix 5: Arthurian Verse Romances: Dates and Manuscripts
    (pp. 250-250)
  18. Appendix 6: Contents of Arthurian Verse Romance Manuscripts
    (pp. 251-254)
    (pp. 255-268)
  20. General Index
    (pp. 269-275)
    (pp. 276-278)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-281)