Kathy M. Krause

title.none: Lacy, et. al., eds., Lancelot-Grail (Krause)

identifier.other: baj9928.9704.003 97.04.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Kathy M. Krause, University of Missouri, Kansas City,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1997

identifier.citation: Lacy, Norris J., ed., and Roberta Kreuger, William W. Kibler and Carleton W. Carroll, trans. Lancelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation. Vol. III. Series: Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, vol. 1878. New York: Garland, 1995. Pp. x, 338. $75.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-815-30747-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 97.04.03

Lacy, Norris J., ed., and Roberta Kreuger, William W. Kibler and Carleton W. Carroll, trans. Lancelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation. Vol. III. Series: Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, vol. 1878. New York: Garland, 1995. Pp. x, 338. $75.00. ISBN: ISBN 0-815-30747-0.

Reviewed by:

Kathy M. Krause
University of Missouri, Kansas City

The Lancelot-Grail Cycle, (also called, often depending on which texts are included in the Cycle, the Prose Lancelot or the Vulgate) is a massive work -- the Lancelot Proper alone runs to 8 volumes in the Textes Litteraires Francaises edition by Alexandre Micha. Thus it seems appropriate that the English translation edited by Norris J. Lacy and published by Garland should be printed in-quarto; the long double-columns of small type convey the sheer mass of material and the enormous amount of work involved in such an undertaking. Norris Lacy is thus to be commended for even contemplating the task, and even more so for bringing it to fruition. There is much substantive matter to praise as well, but first let me provide an overview of the project.

The project, when complete, will comprise not only the translation of the five romances in the Vulgate Cycle (Estoire del saint Graal, Estoire de Merlin, Lancelot Propre, La Queste del saint Graal and La Mort Artu) but also that of the Post-Vulgate, the later adaptation of the Vulgate which omits the Lancelot Proper. Due to the size of the task the projected 5 volumes have been divided into smaller, more manageable subsets, each translated separately. When complete the contents of each volume will be as follows:

1. a. Introduction by E. Jane Burns.b. The History of the Holy Grail , Carol J. Chase, trans.c. The Story of Merlin , Rupert T. Pickens, trans.2. a Lancelot , part I, Samuel N. Rosenberg, trans.b. part II, Carleton W. Carroll, trans.c. part III, S. Rosenberg, trans.3. a. Lancelot , part IV, Roberta L. Krueger, trans.b. part V, William W. Kibler, trans.c. part VI, C. Carroll, trans.4. a. The Quest for the Holy Grail , E. Jane Burns, trans.b. The Death of Arthur , Norris J. Lacy, trans.c. The Post-Vulgate, beginning, Martha Asher, trans.5. a. The Post-Vulgate, cont., M. Asher, trans.b. chapter summaries for both cyclesc. Index of proper names in both cycles, compiled by S. Rosenberg

At this point in time, Volumes I, II and III have been published, thus through the end of the Lancelot Proper. I have been unable to obtain a copy of Volume II for review within a reasonable delay and so will, obviously, restrict my comments to the material in vols. I and III -- the translations themselves and the prefatory material in Volume I.

Lacy explains the editorial policy of this complicated venture in his preface to the translation in vol. 1 -- each translator is responsible for his or her own portion of the text, but each section was also read by another translator and then the entire text was edited by Lacy, "to ensure reasonable consistency of approach from text to text and, especially with the Lancelot Proper, the only romance that is the work of a number of translators." (Vol. I, p. xi) The advantage of such an approach is that the texts are published with reasonable delay, (Vol. I came out in 1993, Vol. III in 1996) and given the size of the project it would seem impossible to complete in any other manner. However the disadvantage of having multiple translators is in fact sensible in the Lancelot Proper, a single romance translated by five different translators. When reading over the breaks in sections (and here I am speaking of the last 3 sections of the text, those in Vol. III,) the change in translator is apparent -- in the change of "tone" or flow of the text. Thus the fifth section of the Lancelot, translated by William Kibler, "feels" very different than the sections which proceed and follow it. This is in no way meant to be a "criticism" of Kibler's translation or that of the other two translators in Volume III, for all three sections read extremely well, staying close to the text and giving a real "flavor" of the Old French without, for example, overdoing the repetitiveness which is a stylistic feature of Old French in general, and the Prose Lancelot in particular.

In addition, Lacy states in the preface to Vol. III, "As in both of our earlier volumes, approaches to emendation have been left to the discretion of the translators and some have seen fit to emend more extensively than others, a decision that reflects both personal judgment and in some cases the frequency and nature of textual problems in the original." (p. ix) This is most obvious in the number of footnotes in each section. (N.b. The footnotes are basically limited to textual questions, and to signaling the corresponding pages in the Old French editions of the texts.) Thus Kibler has noticeably fewer notes than either Krueger or Carroll. Indeed none of the three have included as many as in Volume I, and for good reason, as neither of the texts in Vol. I, The History of the Grail and the Merlin, exist in a reliable, published edition. (See the Preface to Vol. II, pp. xii-xiii.) The translator of these two texts, Carol Chase and Rupert Pickens, are particularly to be thanked for providing accurate, readable translations of difficult texts, texts which are extremely difficult to obtain in any form or language.

Also contained in Volume I is E. Jane Burns' Introduction to the Vulgate Cycle. (The fourth volume will contain an introduction to the Post-Vulgate material.) She first discusses the history of the cycle, including its editorial and critical history, and then addresses questions of authorship and the unity (or disunity) of the cycle, including manuscript tradition and the identity of Gautier (or Walter) Map, the purported author of the cycle. This material is followed by a more detailed look at each of the five texts which comprise the cycle with an excursus on the relation of the parts to the whole, and on the question of prose versus verse inserted between sections covering the Lancelot Proper and the Quest for the Holy Grail. Burns does a good job of explaining the complexity of the cycle and the various responses to it by critics over the years. In fact perhaps it is too good, too detailed a presentation, for it becomes rather difficult to keep track of the various medieval versions of the texts (all of which have very similar names such as Le Livres dou Graal vs. L'Estoire or Li Contes) as she discusses each of them and their intertextual relationships, in the Introduction. The only other, small, criticism I have is that the Select Bibliography is perhaps a bit too select; while presenting the majority of the major monographs on the cycle it does not mention any articles.

Despite these small caveats, the introduction not only provides an essentially well-presented discussion of the Vulgate Cycle but also demonstrates very clearly the protean nature not only of the Cycle, and of the texts comprised within it, but also of medieval ideas about "authorship," "history," etc. Burns presents this approach to the texts and to the lessons which it can teach us about medieval literature, and medieval criticism, in non-polemical and extremely convincing terms. Her concluding paragraph effectively sums up this idea, "In their narrative wandering, the thirteenth-century prose tales of love and adventure remind us that when analyzing them we need not look for a reassuring map to guide our literary voyage. And that in taking this trip we need not choose necessarily between unity and disunity, coherence and incoherence, between the ingenious author's masterpiece and the barbarian's literary dungheap. These excessively polarized options are perforce limiting and exclusionary in their own way." (p.xxxii)

This translation of the Lancelot-Grail Cycle is indeed the opposite of limiting and exclusionary: it provides access not only to the Prose Lancelot but also to the other lesser-known texts of the Vulgate and, eventually, to the even less well known texts of the Post-Vulgate, for many scholars who would otherwise not have had access to them. In sum, Norris Lacy and his team of translators have done an immense service to scholars, providing a translation that does a fine job of treading the fine line between readability and intelligibility on the one hand and accuracy and fidelity to the original language on the other. They are to be thanked and commended.