05.02.17, Bennett, Cycle of Guillaume d'Orange

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Catherine M. Jones

The Medieval Review baj9928.0502.017


Bennett, Philip E.. The Cycle of Guillaume d'Orange or Garin de Monglane. Series: Research Bibliographies and Checklists: New Series vol. 6. Woodbridge: Tamesis, 2004. Pp. xx, 175. ISBN: 1-85566-105-5.

Reviewed by:
Catherine M. Jones
University of Georgia

The Research Bibliographies and Checklists series, formerly published by Grant & Cutler, includes a number of volumes devoted to major authors and works of the French Middle Ages, including Chrétien de Troyes, The Chanson de Roland, and Aucassin et Nicolette [[1]]. Students and specialists of the chanson de geste will welcome this latest addition to the series. Philip Bennett has produced a rigorous and useful history of scholarship on the group of twenty-four poems loosely organized around the figure of Guillaume d'Orange. As Bennett notes in his introduction, this cycle gradually came to include not only the epics celebrating the deeds of Guillaume, but also those dealing with his distant ancestors (Aymeri de Narbonne and Garin de Monglane) as well as his nephews (Vivien and Rainouart). While the precise modes of cyclic formation remain somewhat obscure, Bennett rightly attributes the consciousness of a vast and coherent poetic biography to the late thirteenth century, when the first extant cyclic manuscripts were executed (viii).

In his brief Introduction, the author outlines milestones in the history of the cycle's reception and justifies the criteria he used in selecting entries. The volume covers works from the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the year 2000. Bennett explicitly excludes general studies of the chanson de geste that merely mention the cycle, and he does not systematically include foreign adaptations (ix). The Bibliography proper is divided into three main sections: Manuscript Studies, Editions and Studies of the Cycle and of Groups of Poems, and Editions and Studies of Individual Poems. Entries are numbered continuously from 1 to 815, with editions and translations listed in chronological order of first publication and studies in alphabetical order according to author.

This is a "critical" bibliography in every sense of the word. All entries include at least a brief description, and many are accompanied by critical commentary. The latter notations are particularly helpful in the case of editions and translations. The author provides sound and detailed judgments of the critical methods used in editions, from Jonckbloet's groundbreaking edition of the core poems in 1854 to Bennett's own bilingual (Old French/English) edition of the Chanson de Guillaume published in 2000. Translations are evaluated for both faithfulness and readability. Some readers may be less receptive to Bennett's evaluations of critical studies. He frequently makes qualitative assessments of the author's arguments, judging the validity of evidence, depth of coverage, and soundness of conclusions. While such pronouncements may be very helpful to readers wishing to sift quickly through the secondary literature, Bennett's verdicts are very often unfavorable, and even unjustifiably harsh (see especially entries 64, 84, 228, 444). To be fair, his commentary does not explicitly reflect or promote any particular theoretical agenda, and he acknowledges a wide variety of approaches, from traditional source study to structuralism, feminism, and mythography.

While scholars of the epic are fortunate to have at their disposal the annual Bulletin Bibliographique de la Société Rencesvals, Bennett's bibliography has the obvious advantage of gathering a century and a half of material on the Guillaume cycle in a single volume that is both thorough and efficient. If studies on the cycle continue apace, we can perhaps look forward to the first Supplement in a few years.

[[1]] See Douglas Kelly, Chrétien de Troyes: An Analytic Bibliography (London: Grant & Cutler, 1976) and Supplement I (Woodbridge, Suffolk, Rochester: Tamesis, 2002); Joseph J. Duggan, A Guide to Studies on the Chanson de Roland (Grant & Cutler, 1976); Barbara Sargent-Baur and Robert Francis Cook, Aucassin et Nicolette: A Critical Bibliography (London: Grant & Cutler, 1981).

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Catherine M. Jones

University of Georgia