The Medieval Review 17.09.14

Schoysman, Anne and Maria Colombo Timelli, eds. Le Roman français dans les premiers imprimés . Civilisation médiévale, 17 . Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2016. pp. 196. ISBN: 978-2-8124-5993-1 (paperback).

Reviewed by:

Leah Tether

Upon first glance, this volume looks slim, but its appearance belies the level of utility of what lies within. Indeed, it is a rare delight to able to write a review that recommends so wholeheartedly a collected volume not only based on the worth of its individual contents, but also on the internal cohesion and value of the collective concept.

Various studies have, of late, been devoted to the crossover between manuscript and print--far too many, in fact, to list here. What this particular volume offers is a series of case studies, nine in total, that provide an insight into different perspectives surrounding the publication in print of medieval French "novels." Each meticulously researched and written chapter provides a deep analysis of its chosen material, from the individual motivations of particular publishers to broader overviews of publishing and editorial choices. The chapters are arranged alphabetically according to author (this actually might have benefited from a little more thought, so as to build the narrative in a more linear fashion), and are synthesised in content and context by the introduction written by Schoysman and Timelli.

The first chapter opens the volume with an analysis by Renaud Adam of the activities of Colard Mansion, a fifteenth-century copyist, printer and translator, focusing particularly on the books he produced. The strength of this chapter is in its comprehensive overview of what we know of Mansion, though this reviewer would have preferred to see some more developed conclusions as to how that impacts our broader knowledge of the book trade at this time. Olivier Delsaux finds his focus in the translation of Boccaccio's Decameron by Laurent de Premierfait, as set out in a particularly interesting example of recasting in print from 1485 by renowned publisher, Antoine Vérard. Delsaux successfully demonstrates that Vérard seems intent on reimagining this material as a means of delving into nostalgia of times past, whilst aiming the product at a new, non-aristocratic audience. Adeline Desbois-Ientile turns the reader's attention to the influence(s) for the Roman de Paris included in Lemaire de Belges' Illustrations de Gaule et singularitez de Troye. In particularly persuasive terms, she contends that, in addition to the Ovide moralisé, as established by Ann Moss, versions of the Roman de Troie and the Libro de Troiano already in print may also have provided source material for Lemaire's text. Paolo di Luca makes a convincing call for a new critical edition in his chapter, by means of his analysis of Florent et Lyon, a late-fifteenth prose adaptation of the thirteenth-century verse tale Octavian. His enquiry, which examines the textual transmission of both source and product, is laced with intrigue and establishes beyond little doubt the need for an edition so that we can better understand the work of early-modern prosifiers more broadly. Sophie Lecomte's concise chapter also sets out the case for a critical edition. Her specific focus here, though, is to argue for the importance of two sixteenth-century prints of the Roman de Guy de Warwick in the transmission history of the prose version of the text, and therefore their consequent inclusion in any edition. Perhaps the standout contribution to the volume is that offered by Giovanni Matteo Roccati. With remarkable clarity, Roccati guides his reader through the publication history of French novels in print between 1474 and 1499 (according to the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue). He provides evidence of "popularity" and elucidates possible reasons for particular editorial choices. In appendices, he provides tables and graphs of statistical data that make his chapter something easy to dip into for researchers looking for figures to support their assertions in a number of possible associated areas. It is perhaps the possibility for wider application that makes this chapter so successful. François Suard's chapter follows up with an enquiry into the reasons why the French text La Reine Sebile was so widely printed in other languages, such as Dutch and Spanish, but not in French. Since so much of the volume is devoted to analyses of why things were printed, Suard's chapter is refreshing in its focus on the inverse. He reaches the persuasive conclusion that the text's tendency to suppress its Carolingian-related elements in favour of other narrative aspects explains the French printers' neglect of this otherwise widely-circulated text. Martine Thiry-Stassin takes a multi-pronged approach in her analysis of the abridged version of the prose Chanson de Bertrand du Guesclin which was added to the Triumphe des Neuf Preux by Pierre Gerard in 1487. Thiry-Stassin's enquiry is methodical and careful, taking the reader through all of the various minutiae associated with the incunabulum, from woodcuts to editorial policy, in impressive detail. The volume is rounded off by a manuscript and print comparison of the various witnesses to the Perceforest by Tania Van Hemelryck, which aims to help us understand better the enduring popularity of the text. Perhaps most interesting here is Van Hemelryck's illumination of the rise in importance of the libraire, as she shows as demonstrated by the 1528 edition of Galliot de Pré.

Some minor aspects give cause for concern in the execution of the volume, and it is worth pointing them out here--not to detract from the generally positive view I have of the work, rather to offer constructive suggestions for future books in this series. Some of the reproduction quality is not ideal: for instance, the graphs in Roccati's chapter are rendered at such a small size that the accompanying text is tricky to read. There are also plenty of moments where some illustration of points would have helped, such as through the reproduction of some of the woodcuts described. The English translations of chapter abstracts in the back of the volume are also rather rife with errors, indicating the need for a closer proofreading of text not in French. But, as I suggest above, these are minor issues, and the great strength of this volume is in its gathering of such a variety of approaches to a given subject in one place, thus offering a veritable array of models for future research into the early-modern reception of medieval French texts. The result is a concise, helpful and well-executed set of studies that work together particularly effectively through the impact of their collective methodologies, which combine to enrich not only existing knowledge and understanding, but also future research in the area.

Copyright (c) 2017 Leah Tether

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