Joerg O. Fichte

title.none: Field, Malory: Texts and Sources (Fichte)

identifier.other: baj9928.9909.001 99.09.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Joerg O. Fichte , University of Tuebingen,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Field, P.J.C. Malory: Texts and Sources. Arthurian Studies, XL. Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk: D. S. Brewer, 1998. Pp. x, 313. $90.00. ISBN: 0-859-91536-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.09.01

Field, P.J.C. Malory: Texts and Sources. Arthurian Studies, XL. Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk: D. S. Brewer, 1998. Pp. x, 313. $90.00. ISBN: 0-859-91536-0.

Reviewed by:

Joerg O. Fichte
University of Tuebingen

Malory: Text and Sources is a collection of twenty-two previously published essays and one new one, "The Choice of texts for Malory's Morte Darthur," by one of the foremost Malory scholars, P.J.C. Field. The essays, covering the entire range of Malory source and text studies, date from a period between 1972, "Malory's Morte Arthure and the King of Wales," and 1996, the date of two recent publications, "Malory's Mordred and the Morte Darthur" and of "The Empire of Lucius Iberius." The majority are written in the nineties. The older ones have been reworked to include the latest scholarship. With its emphasis on Malory's sources and the textual history of the Morte Darthur the collection is a welcome companion piece to Field's The Life and Times of Sir Thomas Malory (Cambridge, 1993).

As the title of the book suggests, Field divides his essays into two groups, the first dealing with textual problems, and the second with Malory's sources. The two groups are separated by a longer study and four brief notes, items 11 through 15, providing emendations and geographical identifications.

As is to be expected, the first ten essays cover a wide range of textual aspects, extending from the textual history of the Morte Darthur to Malory's knowledge of the technical terms of hawking and hunting. Field provides an introduction to the major problems of the textual tradition of the Morte Darthur, which are caused by the differences between the Winchester and the Caxton versions. The nature of these variances can best be explained by postulating, as Vinaver did, a lost original and maybe an intermediary between the archetype and each of the two extant texts. Vinaver's position is defended by Field against the position taken by William Matthews in 1975, who suggested "that the Caxton text was effectively Malory's second edition of the Morte Darthur" (p. 2) and "that the reviser was Malory himself" (p. 21).

The study of the textual problems of the Morte Darthur first presented in the introductory essay comprises the core of the essays on the textual tradition. The issues raised became the subject of a heated debate at the 1993 Kalamazoo conference, as Field's tenth essay, "Caxton's Roman War," illustrates. In this paper, published originally in 1995, that is, two years after the publication of the introductory essay on the earliest texts of Malory's Morte Darthur, the author returns to the issue of textual priority. The tone has become surprisingly sharp with Charles Moorman, who presented Matthew's argument, being cast in the role of the antagonist. The Roman war episode, existing in two forms, a long (C) and a short (W) version, becomes the touchstone for the analysis of the two conflicting hypotheses, called "Revision" and "Inheritance" Hypotheses. After a careful comparison of C and W with their sources, the alliterative Morte Arthur, Hardyng's Chronicle and the Vulgate Suite de Merelin, Field, applying the Vinaver Principle, "that what appears in a source and a derived version of a text must (with certain exceptions) have been in the intermediate version, the author's original" (p. 139), concludes that the revisions of this passage must have been made by Caxton himself. Matthews, on the contrary, had argued against attributing the reworking of the Roman War story to Caxton. In following Vinaver, Field once more asserts the existence of one archetype (the "Inheritance" hypothesis), from which both W and C are derived.

The second part of the volume is dedicated to source studies, as the titles of essays illustrate: "Malory and the French Prose Lancelot," "Malory and Perlesvaus," "Malory and Chretien de Troyes," "The Source of Malory's 'Tale of Gareth'," and "The French Prose Tristan: A Note on some manuscripts, a list of printed texts, and two correlations with Malory's Morte Darthur." All of these studies demonstrate Field's profound knowledge of the French romance tradition (both prose and verse) on which Malory drew. The individual essays are carefully crafted pieces of philological research. They illustrate not only the extent of Malory's indebtedness to his French sources but also his skill in adapting themes and motives to new contexts. The adaptation of notable events from Chretien's Erec and Yvain to the characterization of Lancelot is a case in point.

A collection of previously published essays appears to be in need of authorial justification. Field follows this tradition when he maintains, "a consensus that has apparently begun to emerge on some of the issues seemed to justify putting a group of essays on these subjects together in one volume" (p. vi). There are other considerations, too. It is always convenient to have a collection of essays originally published in books, bulletins and journals, some of which are not easily accessable like Poetica. More important, though, a collection like the one presented by Field outlines the problematic areas, familiarizes the reader with the difficulties of textual research and enables him to draw his own conclusions. Seen from this perspective, Malory: Texts and Sources is not only a useful tool but also a valuable contribution to Malory scholarship.