03.07.06, Weiss, trans., Wace's Roman de Brut

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Tim Jones

The Medieval Review baj9928.0307.006


Weiss, Judith, trans.. Wace's Roman de Brut/A History of the British. Series: Exeter Medieval English Texts and Studies. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2002. Pp. xxix, 385. ISBN: 0-85989-734-6.

Reviewed by:
Tim Jones
Augustana College

The Roman de Brut, of Wace is one of the foundational texts of Arthurian literature, vernacular chronicle, and romance. Yet for years interested readers without Anglo-Norman have had to rely on the excerpt translated by Eugene Mason for Everyman's Library (1912), a text reprinted by Toronto in the Medieval Academy Reprints for Teaching series (vol. 35, 1996). In 1997 Judith Weiss re-translated the excerpts for the new Everyman volume of Wace and Layamon, and now she has published a translation of the complete work together with a facing page Anglo-Norman text. While her new translation will replace the MART volume, her Anglo-Norman text will not satisfy the needs of scholars for an edition to replace Ivor Arnold's 1938-40 edition published by the Societe des Ancien Textes Francais.

Weiss, in fact, claims not to be offering a new edition but rather a "re-issue" of Arnold's text (xxv). In endeavoring to edit the Roman de Brut, Arnold despaired of reconstructing Wace's text from the extent manuscripts and opted to use British Library Ms. Additional 451030 up to line 11999 and Durham Cathedral Ms. C iv.27 from there to the end. Among the rationales that he followed in choosing among variant readings was the assumption that Wace was closely following Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia and that those readings closest to Geoffrey's text were therefore preferable. In addition to erasing Wace's independence, this procedure suffered from an incomplete knowledge of the textual tradition of the Historia. It is now recognized that Wace used the "First Variant Version" of the Historia, now edited by Neil Wright (Woodbridge, 1988) and noticeably different from the "Vulgate" version available to Arnold in A. C. Griscom and R. E. Jones's edition of the Historia (London, 1929). In response to these problems, Weiss has restored the manuscript readings where they are either understandable or where Arnold regularized spelling, and has retained Arnold's corrections of scansion, rhyme, and grammar and his inclusion of passages found in other manuscripts but missing in the Additional and Durham manuscripts. This makes for a convenient text and one very useful for English-speaking students who are learning Anglo-Norman, but scholars will still need to consult Arnold.

The translation itself is more literal than Mason's and conveys some of the rhythm and structure of Wace's octosyllabic poetry. It cannot, of course, convey all of the poetic effects of the original, but Weiss chooses a modern vocabulary and figures of speech which make for a vigorous and readable text. Together with an introduction that puts the Historia in the context of Wace's work, the composition of chronicle and romance, and the Brut tradition, this translation provides a valuable complement to Lewis Thorpe's translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia (Penguin, 1977) and Rosamund Allen's translation of Lawman's Brut (Everyman, 1992). The lay reader can now have all three of the major Arthurian chronicles on his or her bookshelf, as can undergraduate and public libraries.

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Tim Jones

Augustana College