Paul Wackers

title.none: Owen, Romance of Reynard the Fox

identifier.other: baj9928.9503.004 95.03.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Paul Wackers, Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1995

identifier.citation: Owen, D.D.R., trans. The Romance of Reynard the Fox. A new translation. The World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Pp. 304. $9.95 (paper). ISBN: ISBN 0-19-282801-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 95.03.04

Owen, D.D.R., trans. The Romance of Reynard the Fox. A new translation. The World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994. Pp. 304. $9.95 (paper). ISBN: ISBN 0-19-282801-0.

Reviewed by:

Paul Wackers
Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen

Roman de Renart is the name of an anthology of short stories in verse compiled in Old French. Its main character is a fox, named Renart. The various stories describe his searches for food, drink, sex et caetera and his conflicts with other animals, especially with the court of king Noble.

One could also say that there are severalRomans de Renart. We know the stories from 14 complete manuscripts and 19 fragments. All show their own selection and arrangement of stories, although in fact these can be ordered into five or six patterns. In romance studies the most attention has been given to one of these arrangements, represented by a number of manuscripts called 'family alpha' and especially to one manuscript of this family, called A (Paris, B.N., fr.20043). The translation discussed here is based on an edition of this family. Owen has, however, made a selection. He gives prosetranslations of the branches I-X and XIV-XVI [`Branche' is the traditional name for the separate stories. The numbering goes on to XXVI.] In branche VII he omits a part of 137 lines (cf. p.136). He does not give reasons for his selection nor for this specific omission. Probably his reasons are partly aesthetical (`poorer' branches are not translated) and partly moralistic (the omitted verses are fairly indecent). Whatever the reasons, this selection gives the reader almost the whole oldest layer of branches according to the chronology proposed by Lucien Foulet. The most well known and the most studied branches are all in Owen's collection.

The book opens with a short introduction in which the history of fables and animal epic up to theRoman de Renart is sketched. The characteristics of theRoman as an ensemble and those of the branches themselves are discussed. The information on individual branches, however, is very scanty. Lastly, some remarks are made on the influence of theRoman on the subsequent literary tradition and on sculpture, carving and miniatures. The introduction ends with a select bibliography.

As an entry to the type of tales which are following this introduction is satisfactory. The main properties of the tales are presented in a clear and informative way. There are, however, quite a lot of (minor) errors, some irrelevant material and the bibliography is too select.

Examples of errors can be found on page xv. There are no subsequent adaptations of Heinrich der Glichezaere's Reinhart Fuchs as Owen states, but we know this tale in its entirety only from two later manuscripts. The text of these manuscripts states that the text of der Gl^ichezaere has been adapted, but where we can compare the readings of the manuscripts with fragments closely connected to the original, the differences between former and later version are minimal. These differences are not enough reason to speak of subsequent adaptations.

The Dutch Reinaert de Vos is not turned into prose nor translated into other languages, as Owen says. This happened with a second - revisioned and extended - Dutch version of the tale, called Reinaerts historie. This text was once turned into prose and this proseversion was the source for Caxton's Reynard the Fox. As Owen speaks of `one of the prose versions' he is wrong.

On p.xvii Owen says that the numbering of the branches is based on that in the manuscripts. This is only partly true. The numbering of Martin is partly based on the sequence of branches in ms.A, but partly it he made it up himself on arbitrary grounds. It is a construct.

Owen's remarks on the English Reynard the Fox version from 1676 (p.xi) seem superfluous to me. It is highly improbable that the reception of French tales in the twelfth and thirteenth century is comparable to the reception of a related but different English text in the seventeenth century, as he suggests. Some remarks on medieval comments on |he Roman de Renart would have been more to the point.

In the bibliography the edition of N. Fukumoto, N. Harano and S. Suzuki (2 vols; Tokyo: France Tosho, 1983-1985) is missing. This is regrettable because this edition is a real addition to the editions mentioned by Owen because it gives the text of another family. The most recent study mentioned by Owen is from 1967. There is, however, quite a lot of more recent research on the Roman de Renart. As guides to this recent research references to the collection A la recherche du Roman de Renart, ed. by K. Varty, 2yvols (New Alyth: Lochee Publications, 1988-1989); and the study of J. Scheidegger, Le Roman de Renart ou le texte de la d'erision (Geneve: Droz, 1989) should have been added.

The translation itself is very readable. Owen aims at a faithful rendering of the content while avoiding ambiguities and the multiple changes of tense which are common in Old French but seem strange for a modern public (cf. p.xx). His work as translator deserves only respect. Mostly he has found an apt balance between a slavish rendering and a too free adaptation. And he is very good at imitating the stilistic properties of the original. As an example I quote a part of the speech of the camel from branche Va (a mixture of French, Latin and Italian) and Owen's translation: Quare, mesire, me audite! Nos trobat en decrez escrite En la rebrice publicate De matrimoine v"iolate: Primes le doiz examinar Et s'il ne se puet espurgar, Grevar le puez si con te place, Que il a grant cose mesface. (vv.457-464) Wherefore, sire, give me audition! By us is found in the Decretal scribed uoder the rubric published anent violation of marriage, that, primo, by you shall be examined the accused, who, if incapable of exculpation, may suffer punition by you ad libitum, inasmuch as his act was gravely peccable (p.95)This example is atypical for the style of the Roman (such garbling of languages is used very seldom) but it shows Owen's technique very well. He respects the order of information and he does not alter the message, but he feels free to make small changes in style and vocabulary. Here he imitates the original by using a complex syntax and a lot of latin or latinlike words. In this way he succeeds in producing a faithful and readable translation.

I have only two reservations towards Owen's translation. The first is that he does not point out places where the meaning of the text of the Roman is unsure. One of the most debates lines of the Roman is for instance line 5 of the prologue of branche II: De Tristan que la chievre fist. Owen interprets la chievre as the name of a - further unknown - author: La Chèvre (p.53). This interpretation has been defended by prominent Renartscholars but other interrretations are at least as plausible [see on this Romania 104 (1983) 524-33]. This choice of Owen belongs to another category as the interpretation of a syntactical ambiguity. It should have been accounted for.

When rendering the names of the villains attacking Brun the bear in branche I Owen decides to give them unchanged (p.14). He adds a note that perhaps the author names some of his acquaintences here to add a touch of local humour (p.246). Why doesn't he consider the possibility that the names have a double meaning as he does on other occasions (see for instance p.44 where conte Gilein becomes `Count Crafty')? Now the reader is left with the question what sort of local humour he confronts here and why local humour is kept in anthologies of later date.

This leads up to my second reservation: the explanatory notes are reduced to an absolute minimum. It seems as if Owen thinks that the tales are self-explanatory and in my experience they are not. Owen would have served his public better when he had given more background.

The book is closed by three Appendices: verse translations from fragments of the Ysengrimus, a fable of Marie the France and a fragment of Renart le bestourne of Rutebeuf. These are added as a bit of literary background and to give some impression of the rhythms of the original poems (p.xx). The hexameters of the Ysengrimus are rendered in blank verse, the two other translations imitate the formal properties of the original lines. Together they form an interesting addition to the book. It would have been useful, however, when was indicated that Owen has translated fragments of book V of the Ysengrimus.

To conclude it is necessary to put my criticism in perspective. I have noticed errors and omisions from the point of view of a Roman de Renart scholar. From this point of view the conclusion must be that someone who wants an introduction to the scholarship and the philological problems of the Roman de Renart should look for another guide. But it is clear that Owen wanted to write for the general public. Even keeping that in mind I do not agree with all his choices but for the general reader readability and faithfulness of the translation are of the utmost importance. Owen's book gives both fully. And thus it can only be highly recommended. Try it.