16.11.04, Lagomarsini, ed., Lais, épîtres et épigraphes en vers dans le cycle de Guiron le Courtois

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Victoria Turner

The Medieval Review 16.11.04

Lagomarsini, Claudio, ed. Lais, épîtres et épigraphes en vers dans le cycle de Guiron le Courtois. Textes littéraires du Moyen Âge, 36 . Paris:Classiques Garnier, 2015. pp. 213. ISBN: 978-2-8124-3408-2 (paperback).

Reviewed by:

Victoria Turner
University of St Andrews

This book is the first critical edition of verse materials such as lais, letters, epigraphs and epitaphs that appear as insertions within the large prose romance cycle of Guiron le Courtois (thirteenth-fifteenth centuries), which itself continues to be unavailable in a modern critical edition. Its production results from the work of the broader research groups TraLiRO: Repertorio ipertestuale della tradizione lirica romanza delle Origini and the international 'Guiron Group' of Scholars funded by the University of Zurich and the Fondazione Ezio Franceschini in Florence.

The edition is divided into a large introductory section (9-71) followed by the primary texts themselves (71-161) and relevant critical apparatuses (161-213). The introduction involves a discussion of the spread of these insertions across the cycle, the typology of the insertions and infratextual references (e.g. references to lyrics not actually included in the Guiron texts but which are simply allusions). There then follows the presentation of the manuscripts concerned and detailed explanatory notes on the establishment of the texts themselves. As expected, this section also covers the editorial choices made, such as regarding the classification of manuscripts, as well as linguistic observations and comments on versification. As the editor notes, a particular benefit of focusing upon verse materials in this manner is that it allows for a different perspective upon scribal and authorial use of language:

Such thorough introductory materials reflect the fact that this edition caters as much for the non-Arthurian specialist as for those familiar with the Guiron tradition. For instance, not only is the use of verse insertions contextualized in relation to the prose romance tradition more broadly, but the specific verse texts edited are situated within the Guiron cycle as a whole: the Roman de Méliadus, Roman de Guiron, and the Suite Guiron, a second phase uniting Méliadus and Guiron and, from the mid-thirteenth century, the Aventures des Bruns (which lacks lyric insertions) along with subsequent continuations. The introduction furthermore includes tables detailing the particular verse texts contained in the different manuscripts of these works. These are an incredibly useful resource as they show both the length of the particular insertions and their manuscript diffusion and also correlate to the organisation of the edition at hand. For instance, the editor notes in this section that the greatest concentration of lyric insertions is to be found in the Roman de Méliadus, the branch of the cycle that is closest to the Tristan en Prose, which is the model for lyric insertions in prose (the eponymous Méliadus of course being the father of Tristan). This section also provides commentaries upon the originality of several of the insertions, noting, for example, an epigraph that shifts from prose to verse that occurs in one of the continuations (28).

While excerpting such material from its wider context might initially seem to risk being a fragmentary approach, the editor of this edition has produced a highly practical resource: each verse text is preceded by information about its manuscript context, its appearance in modern editions, its metrical form, narrative context and mise en page/mise en texte. Before and after each piece there is also a little of the relevant prose context to aid the reader in situating the material. As a result, the reader quickly gains a sense of the item's circulation, form and context. That said, the internal organisation of the texts is perhaps not initially clear for those unfamiliar with the Guiron cycle, since the texts follow the order found in the manuscripts yet are also grouped with letters (A, B etc.) if they are found in series. The content of the particular texts is thus not especially evident from the overall compilation of the edition (though as noted above, the presentation of each text does provide more than adequate contextualisation piece by piece).

A particularly useful aspect of the study is arguably the section entitled "typologie des insertions (lais, épîtres, épigraphes)" (28-34) since it gives a clear sense of the narrative functions and classification of the primary texts concerned. The editor explains that insertions that could be classified as true lais are in the minority and are in fact sometimes referred to as a lai within the narrative even if they are not. The reader learns that there are many other categories of insertion other than lyrics--such as epitaphs and epigraphs--with letters being the main type used. The surprisingly close relationship between the content of the letters in Guiron and the narration is underscored by the editor, who also notes both the important dramatic function of such epistolary materials and their non-romantic focus. This section of the edition contextualizes many of the edited insertions further: for instance, Lagomarsini notes a series of letters between Méliadus, Pharamont de Gaules and Claudas de la Déserte (30), which fulfils a diplomatic function (the securing of military allies). This introductory section also crucially explains the wider literary value of these insertions, which are said to reveal rare moments of self-consciousness in such prose works and to provide psychological portraits of particular characters. Following the work of E. Baumgartner, [1] the "effet de rupture" (31) of these insertions is also briefly discussed alongside the mimetic quality of these texts; and both the structure of the insertions and the terminology used to refer to them are explained here (e.g. the use of the word lettres to refer to écriture as well as to inscription [31]). This analytical section closes with an interesting, if perhaps a little too concise, discussion of the visuality and material qualities of writing (e.g. the editor notes that often the colour, technique, and quality of the writing is underlined) and the analeptic function of epitaphs that may be seen provide a connection between the worlds of the living and the dead. This discussion could no doubt have been greatly expanded, yet still provides an excellent summary of potential avenues of enquiry associated with the insertions that form part of the collection.

As a final note on the edition, the indexes of person/place and of incipits are particularly useful for navigating the collection and for situating these short pieces in relation to wider themes and scholarship, while the glossary is also, as one would expect, a very welcome tool.

In conclusion, given the range of verse materials included in this edition, it is particularly important not to overlook its broader contribution to literary studies, not just to Guiron scholarship: it will no doubt be of interest to those who work on the relationship of verse and prose and to scholars who study medieval prose romances, medieval epigraphy, and lyric insertions. More specifically, of course, these short texts provide a glimpse into the vast narrative and complex manuscript tradition of Guiron in an accessible and likely innovative format. As Lagomarsini hopes in the avant-propos, this is indeed an edition that encourages "une réflexion générale autour de la présence de pièces lyriques ou versifiées dans des contextes non lyriques" (12).



1. Emmanuelle Baumgartner, "Sur les pièces lyriques du Tristan en prose," Etudes de langue et de littérature du Moyen-âge, offertes à Félix Lecoy par ses collègues, ses élèves et ses amis (Paris: Champion, 1973), 19-25.

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