Gretchen Angelo

title.none: Durling, ed., Jean Renart and the Art of Romance (Angelo)

identifier.other: baj9928.9803.005 98.03.05

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Gretchen Angelo, Cal. State LA,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Durling, Nancy, ed. Jean Renart and the Art of Romance: Essays on Guillaume de Dole. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 1997. Pp. 240. $49.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-8130-1495-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.03.05

Durling, Nancy, ed. Jean Renart and the Art of Romance: Essays on Guillaume de Dole. Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida, 1997. Pp. 240. $49.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-8130-1495-6.

Reviewed by:

Gretchen Angelo
Cal. State LA

Nancy Vine Durling and the contributors to this volume had the gratifying opportunity to participate in the first volume of studies devoted exclusively to Jean Renart's work. This focus on one talented but, until recently, underappreciated author, and primarily on one of his texts, allowed the editor to assemble a volume that has both a coherence and a variety not often found in the more typical collection of essays that center rather on a theme. The contributors to Jean Renart and the Art of Romance approach the author from a variety of critical perspectives and fields, including musicology, women's studies, and social history, and do not hesitate to disagree with each other's interpretations; yet the book gains coherence not just from its common focus but from the obvious care the contributors took to read each other's articles and refer to them where appropriate when formulating their own arguments. As a result, this volume serves both as an excellent general introduction to the Jean Renart's work and to his Roman de la Rose or Guillaume de Dole in particular, and as an interesting specialized collection of studies by some of the leading Jean Renart scholars. It struck me that this book would be an excellent work to recommend to students who are not sure just what literary analysis entails, for it demonstrates admirably the myriad perspectives from which one can approach a text as rich as Guillaume de Dole.

As Durling comments in her introduction, it is quite surprising that this is in fact the first collection on Jean Renart, for a number of editions and translations of Guillaume de Dole have been published since 1979, and the number of critical studies, including several recent dissertations wholly or in part on Jean Renart, testify to widespread interest in his work. Durling's introduction includes a clear basic presentation of the three texts by Jean Renart and a summary of the history of critical interest in Guillaume de Dole, accompanied by a strong bibliography.

The book proper is separated into three parts: "Text and Context," "The Language of Lyric and the Language of Romance," and "Music and Performance." In the first of these, essays by Nancy Jones and John Baldwin emphasize the need to contextualize the romance within its period. Jones argues that Jean Renart's comparison, in his prologue to Guillaume de Dole, between the dyeing of cloth and his own insertion of songs into his romance has a wider application than has been previously argued, that the textile images evoke not only technical skill and issues of medieval poetics, but also serve, through the close linkage of embroidery and textile crafts with women, to exploit images of femininity and the new thirteenth- century model of feminocentric rather than Arthurian romance. More than merely a typical female activity, embroidery represents a means to independence from male authority. Jean Renart's use of embroidery motifs, rather than a complete embroidery subplot, in both Guillaume de Dole and L'escoufle plays on the concreteness of the allusion for medieval audiences and the many cultural connotations of textile work, from memory to textual composition to economics. Jones' attention to the cultural context of Jean Renart's romance expands our understanding of his use of embroidery motifs.

John Baldwin's essay turns to the political context, elaborating on the "Welf thesis" proposed, but never systematically proven, by Rita Lejeune. Baldwin believes that concentrating only on the literary aspects of the text, without reference to its contemporaneous historical referents, shortchanges the reader of the full value of the work. Baldwin's detailed analysis of the text's allusions to the crisis of succession in the German Empire, as Durling notes, "recovers an aspect of the romance that has been lost to most subsequent readers" (6). By accentuating Jean Renart's innovative use of historically identifiable secondary characters in his text, Baldwin adds to the reader's appreciation of the originality of this author. Baldwin's analysis incorporates both a detailed reading of Guillaume de Dole itself and research on its historical context, including some unedited texts. His article also treats authorial motivation, chronology of Guillaume de Dole and L'escoufle, and thirteenth-century theories of imperial succession.

The second part of the book, "The Language of Lyric and the Language of Romance," focuses on the role of the lyric insertions in Jean Renart's book. While the ingenuity of this development has necessarily been recognized since Jean Renart himself boasted of it, the four essays in this section prove that there remain many fruitful avenues to explore. Maureen Barry McCann Boulton discusses how Jean Renart's use of literary quotations from nonromance sources transforms his characteristic "arms and love" theme. If they were indeed sung, the lyrical inserts cause significant ruptures in the rhythm, theme, and authorial voice of the romance. Boulton's examination of these registers of displacement links them to differing conceptions of love, and analyzes in what ways they further the plot and force the readers to reinterpret their singer's previous and subsequent words and actions.

Michel Zink, focusing on the fragmentary nature of the songs, argues that the absent melody is unimportant. It is the words of the songs that mesh with the words of the romance; yet by not completely aligning the contents of the songs with their surrounding material, Jean Renart creates gaps in which he can play with complicated issues of textuality and composition. Meant to elicit images of the characters singing rather than actually to be sung, these evocations of songs are nevertheless integrated into the romance in a way that those in Gerbert de Montreuil's Roman de la violette are not. Zink's essay, like Baldwin's, brings the reader back into contact with an easily lost dimension of the work; whereas a modern reader might see the songs as nothing more than diversion, along the lines of the Hollywood musical that Zink invokes, Zink invites us to give full consideration not only to the content of the songs themselves but to their thematical and stylistic integration into the romance.

As text and lyric are linked in Guillaume de Dole, so are gender and genre linked in Regina Psaki's essay on "Jean Renart's Expanded Text." Jean Renart's handling of his heroine Lienor and his experiments with form, says Psaki, are different aspects of his challenges to traditional romances' use of gender and genre. The simultaneous presence and absence of lady and lyric function primarily as critical references to prior narratives in order to problematize the courtly discourse about women: Lienor is continually displaced and replaced by lyrics and other references about, rather than to, her. Psaki argues that "the romance is disjointed in order to enhance its semantic possibilities" (138); the central yet missing heroine serves to frame the inquiry into the possibilities and also the limitations of language.

The last article in this section directs our attention to a different kind of absence, that of the original text when access to it is replaced by a translation. Patricia Terry speaks of the multitude of decisions, each one an interpretation, that a translator must make, ranging from the connotations of proper names to the choice of prose or verse for the translation to the intertextual references that may be lost on contemporary audiences. As we learn from her essay, translating a text as complex as Guillaume de Dole affords a new degree of analysis, an exceptional level of attention to the mechanics of a text and an appreciation for the nuances the author must have considered in his composition.

The single essay in the section on "Music and Performance," by Hendrik van der Werf, attempts to objectively evaluate Jean Renart's use of lyrics by an exhaustive analysis of his relationship to medieval song in general. His remarks range from a discussion of the types of performers expected for each type of song evoked in the romance, to an examination of improvisational composition and performance in medieval musical culture. While unable to resolve the question debated by several of the contributors to this volume on whether Jean Renart's original text in fact contained musical melodies for his lyrics, van der Werf leads us to consider anew just what a "lyric" meant to a thirteenth-century author and public.

The seven essays in this book, as can be seen, incorporate such a multitude of approaches to Guillaume de Dole that one becomes newly aware of the range of possibilities available to a reader and interpreter of this text. Obviously, this means that some readers will not find all the essays equally interesting, but the variety of subjects means that there is adequate material for a general audience as well as for more specialized concerns. Overall, I find Jean Renart and the Art of Romance an excellent introduction to Jean Renart's Guillaume de Dole, and one that will suggest new directions of research to those who already know the text.