The Medieval Review 10.03.11

Rossineau, Gilles. Perceforest: Première Partie. 2 vols. . Textes Littéraires Français, 592. Geneva: Droz, 2007. Pp. v.1: ccxxv- 686; v.2: 687-1480. $170 . Both: 978-2-600-01133-4; v. 1: 978-2-600-01201-0; v. 2: 978-2-600-01202-7 .

Reviewed by:

Kathy Krause
University of Missouri Kansas City

With the publication of this double volume, Gilles Roussineau brings to completion his edition of the complete Roman de Perceforest, begun with the publication of Book IV in 1987.

Roussineau deserves our thanks and praise simply for having edited such a massive text; that the edition displays remarkable quality in all the volumes raises it to the level of a truly prodigious achievement. Indeed, given that these two are the last volumes to be published, one might expect the critical apparatus to be comprised mainly of references to earlier tomes. Nothing could be further from the truth. The introductory material here as well as the notes, glossary and indices offer significant contributions to the whole.

The introduction begins with "New remarks on the genesis of the work," in which Roussineau reconfirms his original hypothesis (stated in the introduction to part IV in 1987) that the Roman de Perceforest as we now know it is a mid-15th-century reworking of a romance written circa 1340, shortly after the death of Guillaume Ie of Hainaut (ix). Roussineau bases his conclusions on a few salient, mostly historical, observations, including: 1. an excessively large number of neologisms if a mid-14th date of composition is accepted, 2. the differences between the Roman and Jacques de Guise's retelling of the episodes of the founding of Great Britain from Perceforest in his Annales Hannoniae, and 3. several historical "clues" that point to the 15th century, such as the frequent use of the "arrt de cuirasse", an addition to a knight's equipment which "n'a été introduit...qu'à la fin du 14e" (xxxi). Similarly, the "mark of the devil" traced on the sorcerers' foreheads during the witch's sabbath is a detail which only appears in accounts of witchcraft starting in the 15th c. This first section of the introduction concludes with remarks on Philippe le Bon and the ways in which the narrative could have appealed to the Duke and his court.

The second part of the introduction considers the translation of the Historia Regum Britannie which opens the Roman; its place in the overall conception of the romance and its relationship to the other "historical" works utilized by the author. Following this, we find the longest section of the introduction, dedicated to the "lignes directrices, composition et qualités littéraires." Here, Roussineau reviews, with abundant textual references, the major themes of the romance, including topics like the figure of Alexander, the main female characters (e.g. Liriope et. al.), the role of religion and chivalry, and the various rhetorical techniques deployed by the author, such as entrelacement and narrative emboîtement.

Following this detailed examination of the poetics of the Roman (at times perhaps a bit over-detailed), Roussineau turns to the philological aspects of the text. A discussion of the language of the interpolated lyrics is followed by that of the language of the base manuscript, and sections on spelling and phonetics, morphology and syntax, and lexical elements. Here, the major particularities of the text are noted and readers are referred to earlier volumes for analysis. This notwithstanding, the last section, on lexical elements, is particularly rich, providing various lists such as words attested only in Perceforest, locutions and usual meanings not noted in dictionaries, and regionalisms (Picard/Wallon).

The Introduction concludes with a detailed plot summary (62 pages worth!), an updated bibliography (testament to the impact the edition has had on scholarship), and finally a reproduction (b/w) of the presentation miniature (fol. 1) in manuscript BL, Royal 15 E V, with a short description and analysis (ccxxiii-ccxxv). My only quibble with the Introduction is that nowhere does Roussineau even mention the manuscripts, or refer to his analysis in the earlier volumes. A student or scholar approaching the Roman de Perceforest for the first time will logically begin with Book 1, and she or he should be able to find in the introduction at least a brief discussion of the manuscripts and of which one was used as the base manuscript for the edition, etc.

The manuscripts aside, the same attention to detail and admirable thoroughness found in the Introduction appear in the concluding apparatus, which includes a list of variants (corrections to the base ms. are noted in footnotes), textual notes, tables of proper names, a list of the coats of arms, and a glossary. Last, but not least, the edition itself displays the same quality and care demonstrated in the earlier volumes of Perceforest, and indeed in Droz TLF editions overall. This double volume is a fitting capstone to a major editorial achievement, one sure to encourage further scholarship on this fascinating romance.