contributor.author: Kathy M. Krause

title.none: Terry/Durling, Renart's Romance of the Rose

identifier.other: baj9928.9406.002 94.06.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Kathy M. Krause, Clemson University

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1994

identifier.citation: Renart, Jean. The Romance of the Rose or Guillaume de Dole. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993. $24.95 (hb) $13.95 (pb).

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 94.06.02

Renart, Jean. The Romance of the Rose or Guillaume de Dole. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993. $24.95 (hb) $13.95 (pb).

Reviewed by:

Kathy M. Krause
Clemson University

It is a pleasure to be able to remark on the increasing popularity of Jean Renart's "Roman de la Rose" among medieval scholars in the past few years. This late 12th century romance, often referred to as "Guillaume de Dole" in order to avoid confusion with the more famous "Rose" of Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, had originally attracted attention of literary scholars and musicologists for its use of intercalated lyrics as well as that of historians for its depiction of courtly dress and its extended tournament episode. More recently several critics have called attention to the extreme literary self-reflexiveness of the text while feminist critics have explored the romance's unusual twist on the wager motif. Patricia Terry and Nancy Vine Durling's present translation, published in 1993 by the University of Pennsylvania Press, would seem to indicate that it's popularity has reached the classroom as well as the conference proceedings. That this translation is destined for classroom use seems clear both from the format of the book — a slim paperback with relatively few notes which serve mainly to explain textual references that might be (would most likely be !) unfamiliar to an undergraduate or MA-level, student — and from the introduction, beginning as it does with a succinct and extremely clear expose of the romance genre. Indeed the introduction as a whole presents an eminently readable and cogent presentation of the Rose - both the text itself and the major critical work done on it. Terry and Durling present the often disparate views of modern medievalists such as Michel Zink, Roger Dragonetti and Henri-Rey Flaud in such a manner as to be easily understood by students without sacrificing either the often opposing and nuanced positions of these critics or their own views of both the text and the critics' positions. In addition they do not neglect the contributions of earlier critics, in particular Rita Lejeune, whose work on the "realism" of the romance provides us with invaluable information about the historical figures and the details of "every-day" life utilized by Jean Renart. Terry and Durling's introduction to this rather thorny "rose" is, in short, as good an introduction to a medieval text as I have read in a long time.

The translation is, unfortunately, another matter. In the 'Note on the Translation' at the end of the introduction, T and D discuss their approach to the translation. After noting the difficulty of translating a text which is the unique source for numerous terms and expressions, they turn to the difficulties inherent in translating a medieval French text in rhymed couplets into English prose:The text gives a vivid impression of courtly life . . . For this reason and perhaps even more important, to protect Jean Renart's ambiguous irony so that readers of the translation could make their own assessment, we wanted to give a quite literal translation. We soon discovered, however, that the energy and momentum of rhymed couplets render unremarkable certain characteristics of medieval style that in prose seem either burdensome or quaint: the very frequent and redundant exclamations, arbitrary changes of tense, names of canonical hours. We have therefore standardized verb tenses and, where appropriate, trimmed excessive repetition. (p. 13)Standardizing tenses is indeed "standard" and "trimming excessive repetition" is often necessary because of the different sentance structures of prose and verse. However, they go on to explain that they have also translated the numerous superlatives as intensifiers not superlatives, (because they are so frequent in Old French as to no longer function by contrast) such that the barons' lament that the Emperor Conrad will not look for a wife, which translated literally would read "if he . . . dies without an heir, we are all dead . . . nothing will ever give us joy again," becomes "If he dies without an heir, we're lost, our happy days are over." (p. 13) But expressions describing a messenger's horse as "neither sore nor lame" and the messenger himself as "neither a fool nor drunk" have been kept because giving the "approximate meaning" of these expressions (the authors suggest, "the horse was swift and the messenger well chosen for his task") wouldbe a "smoothing out of a perhaps intentional roughness". (p. 13-14) I am afraid I do not see much significant difference between the two examples, certainly not enough to lead to "translating" one into an extremely modern idiom ("our happy days are over") while keeping the irony of the second. I would think that most readers, especially ones with a professor on hand, would be able to recognize the barons' original lament as hyperbole; whether it is the narrator's hyperbole or the characters' is just such an ambiguity as T & D originally proposed, but failed, to retain ! If we move from the introduction's examples of translation to the translation itself numerous incidents of such "smoothing out" are evident. Turning, to give just one example, to the crucial moment where Conrad first hears of the heroine Lienor, from his jongleur Jouglet, the Old French reads,Fet il: 'Nel tenez mie a faule:une mervelle qui avintuns bachelers, qui de la vintou ce ot este, me conta.En cele Champaigne hanta uns chevaliers . . .(ll. 657-662 in the CFMA edition by F. Lecoy utilized for this translation)This would translate, in a rough word-for-word manner, as : "He said: 'Don't take this for a fable : One who had been where this took place recounted to me a marvelous adventure which happened to a young man. In Champagne lived a knight . . .". T & D instead give, "Jouglet said, 'This is a true story. Someone who had been in Champagne told me about a marvelous thing that happened there to a worthy and valiant knight." (p.27) If the elimination of the repetition "un bachelers, . . ., uns chevaliers" clearly makes for better English prose without changing the meaning, the substitution of "this is a true story" for the original "don't take this for a fable" (which in a less literal translation than that what I proposed above could easily be rendered, "Don't think this is a fiction") not only unnecessarily changes a negative to a postive statement but also eliminates the key word "fable". Yes the basic grammatical "meaning" of the sentance is that what follows is "true", but in fact it "says" the opposite ; by using the word "fable" Jean Renart calls attention to the fact that what is about to be told is a "story", is a "fiction". The word "fable" carries a lot of weight in the 13th century, including references to Aesop's Fables, translated by Marie de France in the 12th century, and to denunciations of the romance genre by the Church because it was "fabula" and not "true"; by eliminating this word from the translation T & D elimate not only its associations, and its irony,but also and perhaps most importantly for a text destined for the classroom, the opportunity for the professor to discuss these points, which are important not only in this text but in all of medieval french literature, with the students.

I repeatedly found myself of two minds about this translation. When I compared specific episodes with the Old French, like in the example above, I was horrified at the lack of accuracy, at the elimination of much of the specificity of the Old French text. Yet when I reread whole passages I had to admit that the "flavor" of Jean Renart's language - its playfulness, and even its irony - in addition to the details of courtly life did come through, if I thought in "modern" and not medieval terms. Which is how, I suspect, most undergraduates do read ! If I imagine this translation being used in the medieval section of a Western Civ. class, or a Social History class, or even an Intro. to World Lit. class, I suspect the students would ENJOY it - it is easy to read and lively, the prose flows very well, and the intrigue shares enough with modern romances to hook even the most recalcitrant reader of "serious" books. Readability, (and the chance to convince undergraduates that reading Medieval Literature does not mean torture,) is an important issue but I wish that it were not achieved through a so thorough "modernization" of the language and, again as in the example above, the elimination, the "smoothing over" to use Terry and Durling's own term, of key words and expressions. This translation is such that while highly "attractive" for undergraduate history / civilization classes, it is nearly unuseable for undergraduate upper-level, or M.A.-level, literature classes - and yet it is to those students that the introduction is addressed, and for whom it is an exemplary introduction.

Such textual schizophrenia is extremely unfortunate. Especially since there is a simple solution : a facing-page translation. With the Old French on facing pages the opportunity would exist to refer to it for key words and expressions, such as "fable", while retaining the delightfully "readable" prose of the translation. And while there may have been constraints on the publisher that precluded such a presentation, (length and thus expense of the text, rights to be obtained from French publisher, etc.) as the book stands now it is severly limited in its usefulness and appeal.

Let me append my words by noting the text's two appendices : the first is a very useful short essay describing 13th century clothing, which figures prominently in the text, and the second is a list of the first lines of all the songs inserted in the romance, giving both the translation and the original Old French, as well as page and line number references to Lecoy's edition. I might add that Terry and Durling's translation of the songs, retaining the lines and even some rhyme of the Old French, is extremely faithful to the original while making grammatical and poetic 'sense'. If only the rest of the text could be this way !

NOTE: Regina Psaki of the Univ. of Oregon has a forthcoming edition and translation of Jean Renart's Rose with Garland Press. I was unfortunately unable to obtain the text for this review, but Dr. Psaki has indicated to me that she has done a very conservative edition of the unique manuscript (Vat. Reg. 1725) with a literal, facing-page translation. The audience for such a text being scholars rather than students, the two volumes should complement each other quite nicely.