James H. Morey

title.none: Richmond, The Legend of Guy of Warwick (Morey)

identifier.other: baj9928.9702.016 97.02.16

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: James H. Morey, Emory University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1997

identifier.citation: Richmond, Velma Bourgeois. The Legend of Guy of Warwick. Garland Studies in Medieval Literature, vol. 14; Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, vol. 1929. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996. Pp. xv, 551. $95.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-815-32085-X.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 97.02.16

Richmond, Velma Bourgeois. The Legend of Guy of Warwick. Garland Studies in Medieval Literature, vol. 14; Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, vol. 1929. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996. Pp. xv, 551. $95.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-815-32085-X.

Reviewed by:

James H. Morey
Emory University

In this well-meaning but deeply flawed book, Richmond provides an overview, into modern times, of the legendary/historical figure Guy of Warwick. He is likely to be familiar to readers of BMMR as the eponymous hero of the Anglo-Norman Gui de Warwik (c.1200), its Middle English translation (c.1300), and the didactic Speculum Gy de Warwyk (the latter two works are in the Auchinleck MS). Guy is famous for slaying the Dun Cow and the Danish champion Colbrond, for loving Felice, and for living as a hermit on "Guy's cliff." He also claims a place in some reckonings of the Nine Worthies, displacing the more usual member of the pagan triumvirate, Godfrey of Bouillon, who often eludes recollection.

At its best, the book provides an exhaustive review of Guy's role in medieval romance, Renaissance epigones, eighteenth- century penny histories, nineteenth-century chapbooks, twentieth-century children's stories, and touring guides of the Automobile Association of the United Kingdom. The illustrations are finely reproduced and, with the index, points of information concerning the various manifestations of Guy in literary history can be ascertained. There are nuggets of useful information embedded throughout the book, but chronology provides the only principle of organization, there are masses of undigested detail (most of which should simply be struck), and Richmond too often adopts the tone of the dutiful studentewho has done his or her homework, as for example when she notes why the OED is a useful research tool (360). Richmond's prose, after pages of eye-glazing plot summary, repeatedly hurtles into absurd digressions. It strains one's credulity, for example, to believe that Guy was really some kind of role model for Field Marshal Horatio Kitchener in the Boer War (395). At times one gets the impression that Richmond has tried to write a history of the West based on Guy. Many paragraphs are simply incoherent, and there is far too much gratuitous free-association and name-dropping.

Her very first note cites a 1915 PMLA article by Ronald S. Crane, ""The Vogue of Guy of Warwick from the Close of the Middle Ages to the Romantic Revival" (vol. 30, pp. 125-94). Her third note cites her own book, The Popularity of Middle English Romance (Bowling Green, OH, 1975), which, Richmond tells us, contains "an extended analysis of Guy of Warwick. In light of these works already in print, the present treatment, exceeding 500 pages, should perhaps be halved. We all have notebooks and manila folders replete with jottings from various afternoons spent in the library. Of course, only a fraction of any such material is, after revision and editing, fit for print. Richmond discloses in her preface that the book has been "fifteen years in the making" (xiv). One has to admire Richmond's diligence and industry, but unfortunately all fifteen years show, and Richmond takes pains to incorporate every scrap of her notes, whether it pertains to the Guy legend or not, as she mentions, it seems, nearly every poem and novel she read, and musical she saw performed, during her research. Several examples of why the book is so hypertrophied, poorly reasoned, and frustrating to read, must suffice.

In Chapter 1, "Antecedents for Guy's Legend," Richmond discusses the Battle of Brunanburgh (10-12). For a moment, until I reassured myself by rereading the Old English poem, it appeared as if Guy were in the Battle of Brunanburgh. Of course he is not, but Athelstan is, and the historical Guy served in Athelstan's court. This connection is certainly worthy of mention, but it does not license an excursus just because both the Old English poem and the Anglo-Norman Gui exhibit exemplary heroic conduct. Throughout, Richmond imposes astonishingly weak criteria for literary and artistic influence. In another "antecedent," L'Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal, the hero is "attractive and compelling, as beautifully formed as a sculpture . . . and Guy is similarly first presented as handsome" (17). In an otherwise unidentified misericord in Gloucester Cathedral, Richmond argues for its depiction of Guy's battle with Colbrond because of these "specific details . . . a precise showing of sword, hauberk, and helmet," and because "The knight strikes at his opponent's neck; in many episodes, Guy is given to cutting off heads" (104). In an extended review of romances associated with the Guy legend, especially the oppressive summaries of Chretien de Troyes's work, Richmond demonstrates that "Commonplaces abound, and romances of novel-length, like Gui, use many ideas found in several stories" (31). In other words, commonplaces are commonplace.

All will acknowledge that Guy of Warwick qualifies as a major legendary figure; nevertheless Richmond makes unnecessary and unbecoming efforts to validate Guy's importance by associating him with the major figures of English literature: Chaucer, Shakespeare (himself a Warwickshireman), Spenser, and Milton. Once again, the connections are specious. There are two minor allusions to the Guy legend in Shakespeare, first to Colbrond in King John, and to Guy himself in Henry VIII. Together, they become a grandiose frame for Shakespeare's dramatic career: "These two allusions to Guy's legend come at the start and close of Shakespeare's career. That they occur in history plays suggests the Warwickshire poet associated Guy with history" (202). Milton is dragged in on the tenuous pretext that his father knew John Lane, who composed in 1621 a version of the Guy legend, the Corrected Historie of Guy Earle of Warwick. Each canto of this work is introduced by a six-line summary rhyming ababcc, a feature that, for Richmond, "echoes Spenser's summaries in the Faerie Queene" (216), but even the most effortless versifier in English could not achieve six end-rhymes in the four-line summaries with which Spenser introduces his cantos. Lastly, "another detail [ in Lane's Historie] echoes the apotheosis of Chaucer's Troilus: 'So loud Guy laughed'" (218). More such staggering sophisms could be adduced, but these shall suffice.

At points, Richmond's treatment could lend itself to some rewarding analysis, but the reader is again disappointed. For example, as early as page 5, and at numerous points in the book, Richmond mentions that Guy is one of the Nine Worthies, but not until page 191 does Richmond even mention Godfrey of Bouillon, and an explanation of how and under what circumstances one displaces the other is not forthcoming here or elsewhere. In many of the Renaissance woodcuts depicting Guy, he carries a boar's head on a pike. Since Guy is most famous for slaying a dragon and the Dun Cow, the reader's curiosity is raised by the boar's head, but Richmond provides nothing more than the comment, on page 275, that the beheading of the boar is "traditional," until finally, on page 409, Richmond provides a summary of the fight with the boar as it appears in Gordon Hall Gerould's retelling in 1905. Where Gerould got his version, and how the boar fight figures in earlier sources, remain a mystery.

The latter chapters of the book, which take the Guy legend into modern times, are likely to be of less interest to medievalists, and may in fact confirm George Ellis's opinion that the Guy romance is "'certainly one of the dullest and most tedious'" (357). Richmond disagrees with Ellis, but her book does little to refute his judgment, however unjust it may be. The last page of Richmond's text (456) will exasperate any reader whose patience extends that far. Richmond tells us that a sign for a restaurant on High Street in Warwick used to display a "porridge pot" associated with Guy (the only other mention of this pot is on page 450, which supplies the unhelpful information that the reason for the association of this relic with Guy is unknown). The new commercial tenants of the site, "Pizza Piazza," have removed the sign. Evidently Richmond regards this point as a significant scholarly datum.

A negative review such as this one is intentionally severe, and it risks being unkind. If presses such as Garland are willing to be so indulgent, one's criticism of enthusiastic scholars such as Richmond should perhaps be tempered. One can only marvel at the length of the book, and at the ever- alarming size of Garland's "Reference Library" (Richmond's book is Volume 1929). In the end, I am unsure which is the more serious chargm: that there was not, or that there was, any editorial control exercised in the production of this book.