Gretchen Angelo

title.none: Duggan, The Romances of Chretien deTroyes (Gretchen Angelo )

identifier.other: baj9928.0402.002 04.02.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Gretchen Angelo , California State University -- Los Angeles,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Duggan, Joseph. The Romances of Chretien deTroyes. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. Pp. v, 348. 45.00. ISBN: 0-300-08357-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.02.02

Duggan, Joseph. The Romances of Chretien deTroyes. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. Pp. v, 348. 45.00. ISBN: 0-300-08357-2.

Reviewed by:

Gretchen Angelo
California State University -- Los Angeles

In his preface to The Romances of Chretien de Troyes, Joseph J. Duggan envisions a "double audience" for his book: "the general reader interested in the literature of the Middle Ages who is looking for an account of Chretien de Troyes's romances set in the context of their period and the specialist in medieval French literature" (ix). It would be hard for any book to satisfy completely these two groups, but although all parts of this book will not appeal equally to every reader, I cannot imagine anyone interested in Chretien who would not find this volume well worth reading.

The focus of Duggan's book is on "underemphasized" features of Chretien's work: "roles of kinship, societal values, interiority, and myth" (ix). Duggan's examination of each of these topics is grounded in their historical context; the political, societal, intellectual, and literary conditions in which Chretien lived are carefully mined to help us better understand his texts and their composition. Duggan's first chapter, "Chretien and His Milieu," is a solid introduction. Despite the lack of historical data on Chretien himself, Duggan is able to supply his readers with a considerable amount of information on Chretien's works and the possible courts in which and events for which he composed them. Over a third of this chapter is devoted to the dating of the works, and I do think that we can see here the difficulty in trying to appeal to such a diverse audience. It is obviously indispensable for a work of this nature to include the kind of background information on the texts that Duggan supplies here, and there is no more logical place for it than at the beginning of the book; but nevertheless, I think the density of information contained in this first chapter would be heavy going for a non-specialist audience. In particular, the theory that links the composition of Erec et Enide with Plantagenet interests is quite involved and the multiplicity of names mentioned could well be confusing for a general reader. In fact, I wondered if a genealogical chart of Capetians and Plantagenets that appears to be misplaced in chapter two was instead supposed to be here -- if so, its presence in chapter one would doubtlessly have made the complicated relationships easier for a nonspecialist reader to follow. This section on "Dating the Romances" might also be disconcerting in its postponement of conclusions -- after giving Fourrier's and Luttrell's theories on the dates of the romances on page 6, and throughout a detailed presentation of the possible dates for each romance, Duggan does not reveal his own position on the dating question until page 22: "I side with Fourrier in placing Chretien's early activity in the 1170s but situate Perceval in the late 1180s and perhaps as late as 1190."

Chapters two to four, on the other hand, should be equally accessible and interesting to both audiences. Duggan's emphasis on the "mental structures" (2) that Chretien, his audience, and his characters take for granted, but that modern readers may not fully appreciate, not only gives a necessary framework to those new to medieval literature, but can also suggest new lines of thought for those already well-acquainted with these romances. Even medievalists who recognize the historical importance of the family and societal structures that Duggan outlines may not have previously considered how these forces motivate plot and character within each of Chretien's romances.

In chapter two, "Kinship and Marriage," Duggan first presents the importance of family structures such as the avunculate, arranged marriages, and shared responsibility within a kinship group, and then outlines the relationship among Arthurian characters both in Chretien's texts and in other works. Only then does he turn to the specific aspect of kinship that takes center stage in each of Chretien's five romances. In Erec et Enide, this is sanctioned vs. secret marriage; in Cliges, marriage as alliance; in Lancelot, the hero's lack of kin; in Yvain, the shame of his cousin Calogrenant as motive for Yvain's quest; and finally, in Perceval, the hero's quest for kin and the possible family relationships left unrevealed by Chretien's death. All of these sections do not carry equal weight; the discussion of Yvain, for example, is entitled "Avenging Kin," but Duggan acknowledges that after motivating Yvain's quest, Calogrenant "is never heard of again" (76). There does not, in fact, seem to be too much to say about the role of kinship in Yvain, particularly when contrasted with the much more detailed sections on Erec et Enide, Cliges, and Perceval. In the course of this chapter, Duggan presents some tantalizing hypotheses regarding kinship: first, that all the damsels Lancelot meets on his travels are the same woman, Meleagant's sister (72-3), and second, that the Fisher King is in fact Perceval's father (79-82). While to my mind the first of these theories is not elaborated sufficiently, Duggan provides a number of suggestive arguments in favor of the second, which must unfortunately remain forever speculative due to the unfinished nature of Perceval.

In his third chapter, "Values," Duggan explains that although the kinship relationships provide the backbone for the romances, the values of the knights and ladies are the stories' true heart. Similarly, this chapter is the center of the first half of Duggan's book, both the chapter where his attempt to make his reader aware of the difference between medieval and modern systems of thought is the most clear, and the chapter where his analysis of a single theme in each romance flows most smoothly. Whereas the different aspects of kinship and marriage covered in the previous chapter were clearly more of an issue in some romances than in others, here Duggan's narrative of shame and guilt within the five romances shows a clear link among the five and even a progression from Erec et Enide through Perceval. Duggan's emphasis on the external nature of honor and shame in this society provides fruitful ground for an analysis of the actions of the central characters in each book, and builds a strong foundation for his subsequent discussions of Lancelot's anomalous status as a "hero" in Chretien's oeuvre. Duggan's observations on both large and small issues (ranging from Enide's lament to the absence of losengiers in Chretien's texts) bolster his argument that in Chretien's romances, it is not internal guilt that motivates the characters as much as external shame, and that their actions follow logically from their desire to maintain their reputation in society, rather than from a desire to assuage any internal guilt. However, he also shows that how this dynamic is modified in both Yvain, where the protagonist's conception of himself is as strong a motivating force as society's image of him, and in Perceval, where the concept of sin and internal guilt comes into play.

The interior life of Chretien's other characters, moreover, is not neglected by Duggan, but is the focus of his next chapter, "Interiority and Responsibility." Duggan once again begins by situating his topic in its historical context, explaining the different ways in which the twelfth century's "reawakening of interest in what we would call the processes of the psyche" (133) can be seen in other literary and theological texts. Unlike the two previous chapters, this one is not organized by romance, but by subtopic: Duggan investigates topics as diverse as the meaning and symbolism of the heart, the interior monologue, the use of allegory, madness, and meditation in those individual romances that use these devices. These discussions culminate in an analysis of the verisimilitude of each character's motivations, and conclude with a judgment that by and large, Chretien's characters do function coherently within the structure of each romance.

Chapter five, "Celtic Myth, Folklore, and Historical Tradition," changes gears to examine the links between Chretien's work and the Celtic sources that furnished many of his characters and plots. Given the limited number of extant sources for this Celtic background, many of the links drawn between Celtic folklore and historical and literary figures on the one hand, and Chretien's romances on the other, cannot advance beyond the realm of the suggestive; but the extensive documentation of sources in this book and the detailed analyses of parallels with Chretien's work is impressive. This chapter is approximately twice the size of any other chapter, and constitutes a valuable study in its own right. Marshalling evidence on names, mythological figures, plot parallels, and folkloric or literary motifs, Duggan is convincing in demonstrating what debt Chretien might have owed to his predecessors and where his own innovations might have altered his source material. Duggan devotes particular attention to what he previously called Chretien's introduction of "two of the most widely developed narrative subjects of medieval and modern literature: the adultery of Lancelot and Guinevere and the Grail quest" (1). Joining his previous observations on the clear differences between Lancelot and Chretien's other romances to an examination of other tales of Lancelot and Guinevere, Duggan proposes that in fact the "sens" that Marie de Champagne gave to her commissioned author was that of the adultery between Lancelot and his king's lady (225-9). Duggan also continues his speculations on the possible intentions of Chretien in Perceval, proceeding from an analysis of both the philological and mythological meanings of the Grail to an exploration of the parallels between the Perceval and Gauvain episodes of the romance.

Chapters six and seven at first seem to be in inverse order; chapter six, "The Art of the Storyteller," examines Chretien's self-awareness as a writer, his narrative techniques and innovations, and other facets of his "genius" to explain both why his stories inspired countless continuations and why they are still read today. It would seem that this should be the summary of the book, but the short seventh chapter, "Knights and Ladies," returns to the overriding importance of values and behavior for Chretien's characters, and in truth wraps up Duggan's book by reminding his readers once more that we must read these romances while considering both how Chretien borrowed and how he innovated, how he reflects the values of his society and how he uses the institution of knighthood to develop his own ideal heroes, an ideal which evolved throughout his five romances.

Duggan stipulates that his book is not a "guide to scholarship" (x), but the twenty-nine page bibliography and the ample references to previous scholarship within the body of his text add yet another layer to the usefulness of his work. The only caveat I have for the reader is that the organization of the book means that certain issues (e.g. Chretien's attitude towards Lancelot and the family relationships in Perceval) are developed in stages across sections of several different chapters, so the reader needs to be sure to read the entire book in order to get all the pieces of Duggan's arguments. The interest of these arguments, however, means that in spite of the different interests and background knowledge his varied readers may have, Joseph Duggan will give all of them ample matter for reflection in this excellent book.