Noémie Chardonnens's recent book takes on the formidable task of examining intertextual and intratextual repetitions and variations in one of the most voluminous works of the late medieval period, Le roman de Perceforest. Integrating theory from a wide range of literary critics and art historians, Chardonnens develops a complex notion of "emprunt," or borrowing, where she analyzes the author's different strategies of textual appropriation and its effect on readers. The detailed discussion of the author's textual manipulations spans nearly seven hundred pages and identifies six types of borrowings: "les emprunts intertextuels partiels cryptés," "les emprunts intertextuels partiels similaires," "les emprunts intertextuels complets littéraux," "les emprunts intertextuels complets détournés," "les emprunts intratextuels," and "les reprises iconiques." The breadth of the book gives it an encyclopedic quality, but the wide range of theoretical and textual issues that the author addresses will certainly be of interest to scholars in a variety of different fields. Her argument that transfictionality inscribes the Perceforest into multiple fictional worlds and implicates audiences in a process of active reading raises important questions about the form and function of intertextual relationships in late medieval literature.
Chardonnens opens with an examination of partial intertextual borrowings, characterized by references to well known texts and, simultaneously, to the omission of key details of those texts. Chardonnens identifies two different types of incomplete intertextual references: "crypté," or encrypted, which has the effect of asserting the author's creative authority as the master of his own work (129-130) and creating narrative suspense (147), and "similaire," or similar, which results in highlighting the unity and coherence of the text (203) and visualizing the fictional world where the narrative takes place (272). The examples analyzed in this section draw attention to the literary traditions in which Le roman de Perceforest is situated, with particular emphasis on the work's relationship with a wide variety of external Arthurian and romance material. Chardonnens presents a nuanced analysis that highlights the author's different approaches to integrating a number of well known literary texts, including the Roman d'Alexandre, Li Fet des Romains, the Historia regum Britanniae, the Estoire del Saint Graal, the Queste del Saint Graal, the Merlin of Robert de Boron, the Voeux du Paon, the Tristan en prose, and the Lancelot en Prose. This discussion leads to the conclusion that these partial borrowings ultimately serve as markers of "cyclicité" (278), where the repetition of certain shared elements emphasize the cyclical link between the Perceforest, which remains an autonomous text (279), and outside works. Although Chardonnens focuses specifically on the impact that these external texts have on the Perceforest, the textual network that her research uncovers invites continued study of the intertextual relationships that influence romance cycles and Arthurian literature in the late medieval period.
The second part of the book addresses complete intertextual borrowings, where the Perceforest author weaves in entire sequences of pre-existing material in contrast to the brief, even one-word evocations of partial intertextual borrowings. Chardonnens identifies two types of complete intertextual borrowings: "littéraux," or literal, where the author remains faithful to the source text, and "détournés," or rerouted, where the author proposes a modified version of the source text (287-288). The concept of literal borrowings, a form of citation that directly and faithfully represents the source text (290), contrasts with the widely celebrated notion of "mouvance" (Paul Zumthor "Essai de poétique médiévale") that associates medieval literature with instability and variation. Chardonnens responds to this problem by describing a literal borrowing as one that does not change the overall integrity of the source text. Nevertheless, examples of translation, mixed borrowings and recontextualization in this section represent aspects of "mouvance" that at times undermine the attributes of literal borrowings. At the same time, these examples serve to explain how the author historicizes the Perceforest to produce a hybrid work that embodies characteristics of chronicle and romance (369). The analysis of this generic mixing provides compelling evidence for the argument for authorial experimentation and merits further scrutiny. Chardonnens expands her study to juxtapose literal borrowings, which she associates with historical texts of chronicle or biblical origin, rerouted borrowings, which she associates with fictional text sources (497). The analysis of rerouted intertextual borrowings further underscores the creative innovation of the author in blending invention and tradition, offering a dynamic narrative that calls attentive readers' prior knowledge into question and generates an effect of surprise (374-375). Chardonnens discusses three sub-categories of these intertextual borrowings: reinterpretation, correction and counter fiction. The development of different notions of irradiation alongside this discussion emphasizes the essential role that recurrences play in the creation of the Perceforest and the care that the author takes in integrating repetition into the intrigue of his own work.
The final section of the book outlines the repetitions that are internal to the Perceforest, described as intratextual borrowings. Chardonnens discusses how recurring events allow the author to play with perspective, while producing a memorial effect that enables readers to recall past events in a vast narrative. Within the broader category of intratextual borrowings, Chardonnens identifies four sub-categories that mirror her analysis of intertextual borrowings and repetitions: literal complete borrowings, rerouted complete borrowings, partial encrypted borrowings and partial similar borrowings. Key examples from different episodes in the Perceforest support Chardonnens's argument that the different forms of intratextual borrowings give the author a way to structure his narrative and surprise the reader (621). The second part of the section explores the repeating descriptions of art objects, or "reprises iconiques." The attention that the Perceforest author gives to describing statues, frescoes and painting represents another form of authorial experimentation and recalls the innovative writing technique of ekphrasis (625). According to Chardonnens, these "reprises iconiques" allows the author to experiment with a new medium and provide narrative images that remind readers of important episodes in the intrigue. Chardonnens does not address the relationship of these artistic descriptions with actual images because there are no miniatures of the described icons in any Perceforest manuscript tradition (631). Yet a future examination of miniatures from different manuscript traditions might add depth to other relevant issues in Chardonnens's study, such as the nature and form of memory cues, the effect of multiple perspectives on the audience's interpretation of events, and the different strategies used to insert the Perceforest into a fictional, Arthurian universe.
Chardonnens's conclusion reiterates how the incorporation of these diverse strategies of repetitions and borrowings reveal the particularities of the Perceforest author and his late medieval audience. The author, highly skilled and well read, experiments with different literary and historical sources for the enjoyment of knowledgeable and attentive readers. This conclusion is supported by convincing and extensive analysis of clearly defined "emprunts" throughout the book and, more importantly, renews interest in a rich but under-studied romance of the late medieval period. Chardonnens's book will undoubtedly play a central role in future studies of the Roman de Perceforest and intertextual literary networks.