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Expectations of Romance

Expectations of Romance: The Reception of a Genre in Medieval England

Volume: 11
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 274
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  • Book Info
    Expectations of Romance
    Book Description:

    `An important and powerful meditation on romance genre, reception and ethical/moral purpose - amongst many other aspects of romance.' Professor ROBERT ROUSE, University of British Columbia. Medieval readers, like modern ones, differed in whether they saw `noble storie, and worthie for to drawen to memorie' in romance, or `drasty rymyng, nat worth a toord'. This book tackles the task of discerning what were the medieval expectations of the genre in England: the evidence, and the implications. Safe for monastic, trained readers, romances provided moral examples. But not all readers saw that role as valid, desirable, or to the point, and not all readers were monks. Working from what was central to medieval readers' concept of the genre from the twelfth century onward, the book sees the changing linguistic, literary, religious and political contexts through such heterogeneous lenses as Denis Piramus, Robert Manning, and Walter Map; ‘Guy of Warwick’ and Guenevere; ‘chansons de geste’ and ‘fabliaux’; Tristram and Isolde and John Gower's uses of the pair as exemplary; Geoffrey Chaucer as reader and writer of romance; and the Lollards, clergy, and didacts of the fifteenth century. MELISSA FURROW is Professor of English at Dalhousie University.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-724-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. 1 The Problem with Romance
    (pp. 1-42)

    This book grows out of a simple question: “What did medieval readers think of romances?” That simple question is immediately bedevilled by another – “what did medieval readers think were romances?” – for as scholars in the field well know, medieval writers did not use labels for different genres the way that modern critics do. The simplicity of the question also calls for some amplification. “Readers” will have to be short-hand for “readers and hearers” since there is no way to determine whether some of the allusions, uses, and interpretations discussed in this book come from the minds of those who read...

  6. 2 The Name and the Genre
    (pp. 43-94)

    To investigate the ways in which romances in England were read in the Middle Ages seems like a simple aim, though perhaps one destined to be stymied for lack of evidence. But the evidence is there if we look for it; the greater difficulty is justifying the logical connection between what we have looked at and the genre category of romance. If we are to try to find the horizon of expectations for a genre, it helps to be sure that the genre has, at least roughly, agreed boundaries. But what belongs to the category of romance for modern readers...

  7. 3 Genres, Language, and Literary History
    (pp. 95-141)

    In this chapter the peculiar relationship between romance and its neighbouring genres in late medieval England will be considered. As Simon Gaunt asserts, “dialogue with other genres was a major factor in the evolution of romance and in the formation of its own generic specificity.”¹ But the evolution and formation would therefore not have proceeded the same way in different places that had a different constellation of genres, nor have led to the same generic specificity. On the continent, two very important neighbouring genres for defining the romance by contrast were the chanson de geste and the fabliau. But in...

  8. 4 The Example of Tristram and Isolde
    (pp. 142-176)

    As we have seen in Chapter 2, the story of Tristram and Isolde can fairly be considered to be a central romance because it is one repeatedly cited. Those who were thinking of the category of romances thought of a version of the story of Tristram and Isolde. And yet despite its centrality it is in certain ways unusual as a romance. For one thing, it is deeply at odds with the sexual morality of the majority of romances in England. C. S. Lewis’s Allegory of Love famously decreed that courtly love had to have certain characteristics, among them Adultery...

  9. 5 Making Free with the Truth
    (pp. 177-221)

    These are John Barbour’s words opening his long narrative poem about Robert the Bruce, a narrative meant to achieve historical soothfastness, but one in which the reminiscences of romance are strong. Not only is there the often-quoted passage at Book 3, lines 435–62 where the Bruce encourages his men by reading from the romance of Ferumbras (see Chapter 3 above), but there are comparisons at Book 2, lines 531–50 and Book 6, lines 181–270 between episodes in the Bruce’s quest to win the kingdom of Scotland and episodes in the Roman de Thèbes; comparisons at Book 1,...

  10. 6 Coda: The Reception of a Genre
    (pp. 222-236)

    Despite Walter Map’s aversion to the compulsory telling of tales for moral purposes and his attraction to moral mischief and verbal fun, most commentators in medieval prologues speak with one voice about one aspect of romances. They may disagree ferociously about whether the romance has value, but they agree on the grounds for judging that value: is a romance morally good for its readers? The question turns on the readers and what they are able to derive from the romances. We have a system for judging the match of problematic morality and capable audience that is entirely based on age:...

  11. Appendix: Romances and the Male Regular Clergy by Order
    (pp. 237-240)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-256)
  13. Index
    (pp. 257-264)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-267)