Milk and Blood: Gender and Genealogy in the ‘Chanson de Geste’
This is a study of the so-called 'first' Vie des pères, a collection of forty-one pious narratives, amounting to some 20,000 lines dating from c. 1215–1230, which have previously attracted surprisingly little scholarly attention. Lecoy's edition (SATF) does not present the tales in the order that some scholars consider to be authentic and Tudor further compounds the problem by inventing, for the purpose of his presentation, a somewhat factitious order of his own, according [End Page 377] to the Ten Commandments, the Deadly Sins and the Cardinal Virtues. The case for the unity of the first Vie is not well made and, indeed, contains some puzzling contradictions, as does Tudor's estimate of the literary value of the collection. The critical method adopted is a relentless trawl through the texts, beginning with résumés. Almost nothing is left out and the pace is laboriously discursive. No stone is left unturned, but too often there is nothing underneath. The critical landscape seems like an unending plain, quite without the relief of contrasting features or varied landmarks. The author has no sense of economy: every point is made at length, although the style sometimes borders on the informal. Even more dispiriting is the fact that the book is strewn with misprints, particularly in quotations from the Vie and in line references, almost half of which are wrong. But no part of the book is immune to creeping inaccuracy, whether it be word-processing mishaps (for instance, p. 106, n. 82), misdatings, or typographical errors. Bibliographically, the author is pleasingly and usefully up-to-date, but he seems to have profited little from all the works he cites. It is to be feared that the same will apply to his readers. To read over 600 pages without so much as the help of an index may seem less inviting than simply reading the original 20,000 lines of octosyllabic couplets and making notes of what is of interest. The Vie des pères deserves a critical introduction, but one that is economical, incisive and astute. The author of the present study knows the texts intimately, and the wealth of information might have made the book a useful work of reference, if only an index had been supplied. As it stands it seems ill-conceived.