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Arthurian Romances (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 31 Jan 1991
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Taking the legends surrounding King Arthur and weaving in new psychological elements of personal desire and courtly manner, Chretien de Troyes fashioned a new form of medieval Romance. The Knight of the Cart is the first telling of the adulterous relationship between Lancelot and Arthur's Queen Guinevere, and in The Knight with the Lion Yvain neglects his bride in his quest for greater glory. Erec and Enide explores a knight's conflict between love and honour, Cliges exalts the possibility of pure love outside marriage, while the haunting The Story of the Grail chronicles the legendary quest. Rich in symbolism, these evocative tales combine closely observed detail with fantastic adventure to create a compelling world that profoundly influenced Malory, and are the basis of the Arthurian legends we know today.
About the Author
Chretien de Troyes wrote in French in the second half of the twelfth century. Very little is known about his life.
William W. Kibler teaches at the University of Texas at AUsin. He as served as president of the North American Branch of the Societe Rencesvals and has published many articles on medieval French literature.
Carleton W. Carroll is Professor of French at Oregon State University. Previous publications include editions and translations of Chretien's Eric et Enide and Le Chevalier au Lion.
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Marital love is ever an important theme in Chretien. In Erec and Enide, the hero neglects his knightly reputation in order to devote himself to his new bride, and in Yvain the hero does the opposite and neglects his bride for valour. Both must set off on a series of adventures that culminate in them seeing the error of their ways and setting matters right.
Lancelot is an excellent story, though rather odd in that the theme this time is an adulterous relationship, that of Lancelot and Guinevere. Nowhere does Chretien condemn this relationship, despite negative references elsewhere to the shameful adulterous love between Tristan and Iseult. In Kibler's introduction he suggests that the theme may have been suggested by Chretien's patroness. Perhaps, then, Chretien was anxious not to offend the French Court. At any rate, he didn't bother to finish the romance and gave it to someone else to do (the ending is included in this book).
In Perceval Chretien masterfully captures the naivete of the young hero, and he delivers the most mysterious, powerful and influential Arthur story of all. Here we see the holy grail, the bleeding lance and the castle of maidens, all of which have become essential ingredients in Arthurian lore. It's unfinished state presented an irresistible challenge to later poets, some of whom tried to finish it off, others who went back to the beginning and offered their own interpretations.
The only story that sometimes gets a little static is Cliges, where the characters occasionally go off into protracted musings on the nature of love. But once you've got past these bits, which to be fair are intelligent insights, it's still a fine read.
All in all, I hugely recommend this book. And if it doesn't want to make you start exploring Mallory, Von Eschenbach, and the rest, you've got no romance in your soul!