Robert Rouse

title.none: Saunders, ed., A Companion to Romance (Robert Rouse)

identifier.other: baj9928.0701.003 07.01.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Robert Rouse, University of British Columbia,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Saunders, Corinne, ed. A Companion to Romance: From Classical to Contemporary. Series: Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture, vol. 27. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. Pp. xiii, 565. $124.95 (hb) 0-631-23271-0. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.01.03

Saunders, Corinne, ed. A Companion to Romance: From Classical to Contemporary. Series: Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture, vol. 27. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2004. Pp. xiii, 565. $124.95 (hb) 0-631-23271-0. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Robert Rouse
University of British Columbia

What is romance? As a literary genre the term has defied many attempts to pin it down, stubbornly resisting the delineation of its multifarious shapes and forms. In this magnificent volume, A Companion to Romance: From Classical to Contemporary, Corinne Saunders marshals an outstanding array of scholarly talent in an attempt to chart the bounds of romance--chronologically, thematically, and formulaically--despite its nature as an "inherently slippery" genre (1). The volume seeks to "clarify the definition(s) of romance" (8), while simultaneously providing ample evidence of the wide range of texts and forms of romance that through their very heterogeneity problematize such a task.

The first six chapters of the volume cover the classical origins and the medieval flowering of romance. Elizabeth Archibald examines the case for the existence of romance prior to its heyday in the Middle Ages, noting that the past twenty years has seen a burgeoning interest in the possibility of finding romance in the ancient world. Concentrating her analysis on the five Greek romances of Chariton's Chaereas and Callirhoe, Xenephon's Ephesian Tale, Longus' Daphnis and Chloe, Achilles Tatius' Leucippe and Cleitophon, and Heliodorus' Ethiopica, and the two most influential of classical romances, The Alexander Romance and Apollonius of Tyre, Archibald adroitly situates these texts within the archaeological strata of romance. Present within these texts are the "seeds of the romance genre" (4), providing a nebulous series of literary ancestors for the later medieval flourishing of the genre. Her conclusions on the role of romance in the ancient world are, by necessity, qualified, as much of what we know of the readership, development, and place of these texts within ancient literary culture is obscured by the fragmentary textual record that remains to us, and thus, as Archibald concludes, a full understanding of the place of romance in the ancient world remains under debate, "a slippery and controversial topic." (24)

Judith Weiss addresses the Anglo-Norman flourishing of romance in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Situating its origins within the reign of Henry II and Eleanor, Weiss associates the rise of romance as a literary movement concomitant with the vogue for historical chronicle writing (27). Weiss rightly emphasises this interdependence of romance and history, identifying their common interest in "insular history and topography" (28). After providing a context for the romances in the chronicles and romans antiques of the Angevin period, the chapter addresses each of the major Anglo-Norman romances: the romances of Tristan, De Horn Bono Milite, Geste d'Alisandre, Boeve de Haumtone, Waldef, Gui de Warewic, and Fouke le Fitz Waryn. The Anglo-Norman romances, for Weiss, can be characterised by a number of common concerns. They exhibit an interest in a precise sense of the British past and its geography, have a provincial focus rather than a royal one, are notably non-Arthurian in their subject matter, contain a surprisingly willful set of female characters, and embody a nascent sense of Englishness (40-1).

There are few better scholars to address English metrical romance than Derek Brewer, and his assured and wide-ranging chapter in no way disappoints. Addressing these popular romances within the context of folktale narratives, he nonetheless elucidates their seriousness, highlighting their "genuine if distorted reflection of real-life social and psychological concerns" (45). As with many of the chapters in the Companion, Brewer serves both to introduce the plots of individual romances--an aspect that adds much to the usefulness of the volume as a survey--and to introduce some of the current critical debates surrounding these texts. Concerns of nationalism, otherness, cultural and individual identity politics, theories of authorship and transmission, and genre are woven around accounts of some of the major romances of the period, including Guy of Warwick, Beues of Hamptoun and Havelok the Dane. Engaging with the troublesome task of delineating just what is a popular romance, Brewer takes the approach of identifying a number of "principal characteristics" and commonly shared motifs which result in their typically formulaic nature--as famously parodied by Chaucer in his Tale of Sir Thopas. Despite such literary shortcomings, their importance remains undeniable, as "they constitute the imaginative ground of a substantial area of medieval and much post-medieval literary and social culture" (62).

Ray Barron's chapter provides a useful chronological survey of the Arthurian tradition. Beginning with Geoffrey of Monmouth's grand Arthurian narrative, he traces the development of the tradition through Wace to Layamon, pausing to consider the increasing transformative use of the romance mode. From here he leads us to Chrétien's romances, with their marginalisation of the figure of Arthur himself and the corresponding aggrandisement of the individual knights of his court. It is these knights-- Gawain, Percival, Yvain--who become as important, if not more so, as Arthur himself within the later Middle English romances addressed in the chapter. Barron also addresses the social discourses encoded within these narratives, identifying as fundamental amongst them a "wish-fulfillment of national unity" (68). This national sentiment is undoubtedly complicated by the regional and continental affiliations of the legends, but Barron nevertheless discusses those texts that exhibit "an assertion of English national awareness" (76). Other than nationalism, Arthurian romance served many masters, expressing a wide range of ideological and cultural concerns. Barron sees this malleability of the romance mode as underlying both its varied subject matter and its continued popularity. As with many of the contributions to this volume, Barron raises the issue of how exactly a romance might be defined. Here he points towards an increasing tendency of critics to categorize romance in terms of mode rather than genre, drawing upon Artistotle's definition of romantic fictions in the Poetics.

Corinne Saunders continues the debate over the elusive nature of romance, noting that while modern scholars may disagree as to what exactly a romance might consist of, medieval writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer clearly had some understanding as to what they considered romance to be. Evidence for this is to be seen both in Chaucer's parodying of the term in Sir Thopas and in his manipulation of romance motifs and audience expectation in many of his other tales. Saunders provides perceptive insights into the generic interplay of romance and other forms of narrative within Chaucer's art, highlighting his use (and misuse) of the genre to raise numerous troublesome social questions. In the Franklin's Tale, for example, such questions arise through the "intersection of romance and realism" (95), leaving the reader to question not only the message of the tale, but also the predilections of the Franklin himself. Through this strategy he presents the reader with a "dualistic tale and teller" (96), leaving us, in typical fashion, with many more questions than answers. For Chaucer, romance is an important mode of writing: his attitude ranges from outright mocking (Sir Thopas) to sophisticated manipulations of the genre, allowing for some of his "very greatest writing, and facilita[ting] a kind of imaginative play that others genres do not" (101).

Helen Cooper rounds out the medieval coverage of the Companion by examining the late-medieval English flowering of romance in Malory and the early prose romances. Situating their importance in terms of the legacy manifest in both the literary and scholarly responses to these texts witnessed during the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, she highlights the role that such texts play as cultural capital, exemplified here firstly by the necessity of romance to an understanding of Cervante's Don Quixote. Taking as her starting point Caxton's printing of Malory, Caxton's "plan of transferring to England the Continental fashion for prose romance" (108) provides a context in which to view the changing nature of romance during this period, with its shift towards socially aspirational proto-novelistic texts for the increasingly literate and affluent middle classes. This broadening of the reading of romance, fore-grounded by earlier figures such as Chaucer's Franklin, sets the stage for its immense popularity during the following centuries.

The remainder of the Companion to Romance continues the story of romance from the renaissance to the twenty-first century: these many and varied manifestations are surveyed by an outstanding line-up of critical talent: Lori Humphrey Newcomb (Renaissance Prose Romance), Andrew King (Sidney and Spenser), David Fuller (Shakespeare's Romances), John Simons (Chapbooks and Penny Histories), David Fairer (The Faerie Queen and Eighteenth-century Spenserianism), Jerrold E. Hogle (The Origins of Gothic Romance), Lisa Varga (Women's Gothic Romance), Clive Probyn (Eighteenth-Century Romance), Fiona Price (Samuel Richardson and the Politics of Romance), Fiona Robertson (Sir Walter Scott), Michael O'Neill (Coleridge and Keats), Leonee Ormond (Tennyson), Richard Cronin (Victorian Medievalism), Francis O'Gorman (Romance and Victorian Autobiography), Andrew Sanders (Victorian Romance and Mystery), and Robert Fraser (Nineteenth-century Fantasy). The chapters on the twentieth century are no less authoritative: Susan Jones (Imperial Romance), Ulrika Maude (America and Romance), Edward Larrissy (Yeats, Pound and Eliot), Raymond H. Thompson (Twentieth-century Arthurian Romance), Richard Mathews (Romance in Fantasy), Kathryn Hume (Quest Romance in Science Fiction), Clare Morgan (Iris Murdoch, A. S. Byatt, and Romance), and Lynne Pearce (Popular Romance and Readership).

The Companion to Romance is an ambitious project which succeeds in drawing together in one place a comprehensive and wide-ranging collection of approaches to romance. As a starting point for students (and academics) approaching the daunting corpus of romance, the volume is of undeniable value. The profitable use of cross references between chapters and the carefully-chosen suggestions for further reading enhance the text's utility in this regard, providing the reader with a wealth of leads to follow on one's own journey through the marvelous lands of romance.