The purpose of this book is to demonstrate that popular romance not only merits and rewards serious critical attention, but that we ignore it to the detriment of our understanding of the complex and conflicted world of medieval England. As an introduction, this chapter offers a short polemical essay that confronts head-on the paradox that informs and ultimately circumscribes all of our thinking about Middle English popular romance. It is divided into two sections that tackle in turn what is at stake in our appreciation and enjoyment of these inescapably popular narratives: romance's status as a socially and aesthetically degenerate form of fiction and its capacity to generate textual pleasure.
In summing up one of the main themes of humanistic and aesthetic opposition to the Great War – the friction which existed between the structure of the war-state with its resultant ‘herd instinct’ and notions of the sacredness of the individual – there is perhaps no more apposite personal example than that of Gilbert Cannan, an individual who, like Bertrand Russell, specifically projected his concerns into the public sphere. Cannan, a friend of D. H. Lawrence (who, together with his wife, had moved to Buckinghamshire in August 1914 to be near Cannan and his wife Mary), saw himself as a defender of that which he described as ‘a man's most precious possession’: human dignity. Cannan's description of military service as a test of morality was later echoed by the poet and dramatist Robert Nichols, who wrote that the very essence of war was compulsion by violence or threat of violence, and that such compulsion entailed ‘moral suffering’. This chapter examines the views of Arthur Waugh, Lascelles Abercrombie and Paul Nash about the Great War.
This collection and the romances it investigates are crucial to our understanding of the aesthetics of medieval narrative and to the ideologies of gender and sexuality, race, religion, political formations, social class, ethics, morality and national identity with which those narratives emerge.
The lump-child and its parents in The King of Tars
The central figure of the Middle English popular romance known as The King of Tars (hereafter KT) — a formless lump of flesh born instead of a child — defines a certain view of popular literature. The birth is an outrageously sensationalist event; the ideological message conveyed by its subsequent transformation into a human being through baptism is simplistic, vulgar and racist. This chapter concentrates on the treatment of the lump in order to show how its treatment throws into relief the different configurations of paternity and maternity, of gender roles and of religious politics put forward in a range of re-tellings.
Sibylle Lacan's text Un père, published in 1994, bears the subtitle 'puzzle', a term which the author describes as referring primarily to the fragmented nature of her writing. However, it applies equally well to the subject of her text: the question of what kind of father Jacques Lacan represented for her is a puzzle wrestled with throughout the text. In writing and publishing her text, Sibylle Lacan publicly asserts her name and her relation to her father, filling the gap, the missing piece in Who's Who. Sibylle Lacan's Un père, Elisabeth Roudinesco's Jacques Lacan and Jacques Lacan's nom-du-père become embroiled in an intertextual whirl in which notions of paternity, origins and authority lose their footing. Seen in this light, however, Sibylle's puzzle of a text escapes the reduction to a simple confirmation of her father's intellectual legacy.
Opposition to the Great War took many forms. Of a wartime total of 3,964 conscientious objectors referred to the adjudicating Pelham Committee by local tribunals, 1,716 declared themselves Christadelphians and hence possessed a religious objection to the war. There existed, of course, other denominations of religious opposition within the almost 4,000 declared conscientious objectors in Great Britain – in particular the Quakers. It is worth pointing out how even within the ‘organised’ forms of anti-war protest, there was a great variety of personal response. While religion of all denominations played a large part in determining responses to the war, both for and against, in many cases the boundaries between ‘recognised’ opposition and humanistic anti-war reaction could become blurred. There were individuals who exhibited a drier, more ‘rational’ and (especially) moral stance in relation to the war. Some examples show that the existence of a moral element to objection to war and military compulsion was not only documented in post-war studies but also in contemporary publications.
The fourteenth-century popular romance Guy of Warwick engages contemporary socio-political concerns in critical and transformative ways. Guy's fantastic reworking of England's past through its titular hero both recognises England's historic culpabilities in its interactions with other countries and transforms these culpabilities into redeeming alternative possibilities for remembering the past and for performing the future. This chapter argues that at the centre of each of Guy's two cycles, the hero finds himself on a formative adventure in a fantastically imagined East; Guy devotes so much narrative attention to the East because the romance responds to and reimagines the West's conflicts with the East during the Crusades. Guy simultaneously asserts Latin dominance in both Christian and Muslim settings and rejects the most egregious moral error of the Crusades—the sack of Constantinople—by creating an alternative outcome in which the hero chooses not to seize control of the Byzantine Empire.
Identities in crisis in the early novels of Marie Darrieussecq
When Marie Darrieussecq's first novel Truismes exploded on to the French literary scene, it was clear that she was a young writer intent on taking the reader to disturbing places. Truismes launched the single-minded fascination with identity crises and altered states which would be confirmed by the subsequent novels, Naissance des fantômes and Le Mal de mer. Although in this first novel feminine identity is explored within an oppressive, patriarchal context, the following works constitute much more elliptical examinations of the self in crisis with no overtly political dimension and Darrieussecq's ambitions are less ideological than literary. This chapter focuses on three themes: monstrous bodies, missing others and fantastic landscapes. It suggests that the heroine's porcine transformations keep the struggle over the meanings of the female body firmly at the centre of the complex text.
The fourteenth-century alliterative narrative The Siege of Jerusalemhas recently begun to generate the kind of interest associated with more canonical Middle English works. Scholarly studies have emerged to fill the lacunae of response and readings, and a new edition is forthcoming. This chapter argues that this new attention to Jerusalem is well deserved and long overdue, inhibited more by scholarly distaste for the poem's perceived relentless and violent anti-Judaism, than by any intrinsic lack of literary or cultural value. The argument concerning the poem is predicated on a recuperative reading in another sense of the word. It suggests that the virulent anti-Judaism from which scholars recoil is neither as unambiguous nor singular as is commonly claimed.
According to Sir Degrevant, an early fifteenth-century romance with a lively plot and remarkable density of description, what women want is a handsome, valiant, wealthy and noble lover, triumph over fierce paternal opposition, a splendid wardrobe, and a fabulous room of their own. Degrevant is written in the sixteen-line tail-rhyme stanza often characteristic of popular romances, and, although it has no identifiable main source or close analogues, it also incorporates a number of conventional thematic and verbal formulas. It argues that the term landowning class tends to occlude women's social and cultural activities. In the getting and maintaining of wealth and power, a particularly demanding task in the political and economic upheavals of the fifteenth century, the making of marriages was a way of brokering alliances and providing for the orderly transfer of wealth.