Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Roland Legend in Nineteenth Century French Literature

The Roland Legend in Nineteenth Century French Literature

Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 264
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Roland Legend in Nineteenth Century French Literature
    Book Description:

    The year was 778. Charlemagne, starting homeward after an expedition onto the Iberian Peninsula, left his nephew, Count Roland, in command of a rear guard. As Roland and his troops moved through the Pyrenees, a fierce enemy swooped down and annihilated them. Whether the attackers were Moors, Basques, Gascons, or Aquitainians is still disputed. The massacre soon passed into legend, preserved but at the same time expanded and interpreted in oral tradition and written accounts.

    Dormant after the late Middle Ages, the legend began to inspire literary works even before the discovery and publication of the Oxford manuscript Chanson de Roland in 1837. The French Revolution and Empire, temporarily relieving Roland of his religious aura, hailed him as a patriot belaboring his country's foes. The Romantics made him either a dauntless, irrepressible extrovert or a noble victim struck down while making the world a better place. As the twentieth century dawned, a few authors scoffed at hero worship but others held up Roland as a heroic example that might help his countrymen live with the humiliation of their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War and then, as World War I approached, retake their lost territories.

    Fascinating as the Roland legend is in itself, no one has looked into the nonacademic French literature to which it has given rise in modern times. Harry Redman now shows how writers, with varying outlooks and approaches and divergent purposes, drew upon the legend from 1777 to the end of World War I. A monumental enterprise based on primary research, the book is of extraordinary value to scholars interested in the Old French epic and to all those concerned with more recent literary periods.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6442-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Toponymy
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Vague Recollections and New Beginnings
    (pp. 1-28)

    For our purposes, it will be worthwhile to keep in mind what educated Frenchmen knew prior to the nineteenth century about the illustrious Frankish knight who perished in the slaughter that took place in Roncevaux Valley on 15 August 778. Actually, Roland and his legend were by no means unknown. To be sure, much of what was known came from Spanish and Italian Renaissance literature. In the Middle Ages there had been moreover a fanciful and highly didactic Latin narrative, not quite romance and not quite history, that, translated into the vernacular, made for entertaining reading. In time several French...

  6. 2 Patriot Warrior
    (pp. 29-74)

    Before 1789 history and legend had generally presented Roland as Charlemagne’s nephew, the sovereign’s tried and trusty lieutenant, a stalwart, even superhuman, paladin fighting bravely and ultimately dying for God and king. During the French Revolution, while remaining a national hero and a champion held up for others to emulate, he came to be viewed as a militant patriot battling to preserve or extend France’s boundaries and rid her soil of enemies, but his religious aura vanished and would not reappear for some time. Meanwhile, the domestic upheaval spent itself and order, little by little, returned. After several governments came...

  7. 3 The Romantics’ Roland
    (pp. 75-118)

    Under the regimes that followed the French Revolution, a new generation of writers came upon the scene, bringing with it new outlooks and interests. Some called attention to localities, monuments, even weaponry popularly associated with Roland and his exploits. Others, spurred on by recent speculation and discoveries, urged locating, preserving, and publishing old manuscript epics, including those that involved the mighty champion. Proving that theChanson de Rolandwas a legitimate epic, Homeric in structure and details, was a vital matter to at least one author. While during this period there was some interest in what Roland could have been...

  8. 4 Magnificent Braggart and Doomed Lover
    (pp. 119-161)

    During the middle years of the nineteenth century, oral tradition, guidebooks, and tourists continued to perpetuate the Roland legend. Creative writers, sometimes adhering rather closely to the basic story but often extremely imaginative, added their own touches. Using an archaic word or expression here and there, several endeavored to suggest an appropriate medieval atmosphere. Writers also wondered what became of Roland’s horn and sword after their owner’s death. Continuing to view their protagonist as impetuous but essentially pathetic and noble, they tended to think of him, more than in the past, not only as a soldier but as a lover,...

  9. 5 Despair, Hope, and Triumph
    (pp. 162-205)

    In July 1870 France let herself be lured into war with Prussia. Less than a year later, she lay beaten and prostrate, stripped of Alsace and part of Lorraine. Whatever reasons they gave for the humiliating defeat, totally unexpected, people agreed that the lost territory had to regained. Morally and militarily speaking, Frenchmen had to set their house in order, then retake what was As intense nationalism mounted, writers called upon their countrymen to emulate one of the nation’s most eminent heroes, Roland. Thereafter, Roland’s weaknesses were minimized or forgotten in literature, and only his valor and commitment to the...

  10. 6 A Hero for All Seasons
    (pp. 206-218)

    Shortly before the French Revolution, Roland began attracting writers’ attention. During the turbulent years that followed, his value as a tool of propaganda was exploited. He became a boisterous patriot and an imperial dragoon, shouting slogans as he manhandled his country’s enemies. Radically different from the pious knight of theChanson de Roland,he is barely recognizable in this incarnation. As the final allied coalition drove deeper and deeper into France in 1814 and 1815, Aime Martin and Creuze de Lesser hoped he could save the day. It was not to be, and soon France was occupied. Unrealistically, Cuvelier de...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 219-238)
  12. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 239-240)
  13. Index
    (pp. 241-247)