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  • Le Conte en palimpseste. Studien zur Funktion von Märchen und Mythos im französischen Mittelalter
  • Daron Burrows
Le Conte en palimpseste. Studien zur Funktion von Märchen und Mythos im französischen Mittelalter. By Friedrich Wolfzettel . Stuttgart, Franz Steiner Verlag, 2005. 210 pp. Pb €34.00.

This book draws together nine separate essays (five in German, three in French and one in English; four previously published elsewhere), written from 1998 onwards, unified as demonstrations of the author's central thesis: that while there is no distinct genre of the fairy-tale in medieval literature, there is a pervasive mythical and folkloric substrate which has, in a manner comparable to a palimpsest, left a tangible imprint on a broad range of narrative forms. Since this phenomenon has been more widely recognized and studied in short narratives such as the exempla, Wolfzettel opts to concentrate on the longer forms of the French epic and the romance, including Ami et Amile, Berte as granz piés, Le Chevalier au cygne, Le Roman de la Manekine and Le Roman de Perceforest. Each study explores the ways in which the texts have, in places, adapted and reconfigured folkloric structures, motifs, and types (for instance, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel) to accommodate the demands and sensibilities of Christian and courtly culture, with the frequent amorality of the fairy-tale being brought into alignment with a clearer religious, eschatological framework, and, in terms of trifunctional theory, the Third Function being repressed in favour of the First and Second. The significance of the processes of reinterpretation and refunctioning of the folkloric substrate is pursued through recourse to anthropology, Jungian and Freudian analysis, and, often most interestingly, to consideration of a historical context in which contradictions in the attempts to repurpose the folkloric material can be seen as a reflection of developing tensions in social structure. While the reader may not always agree with the significance accorded to folkloric material, or with the analytical perspectives adopted, there is no question that Wolfzettel's close readings provide some persuasive and thought-provoking insights; that attention is devoted to perhaps less well-known texts, such as Béatrix and Elioxe, or Blandin de Cornouaile and Frayre de Joy e Sor de Plaser, is a bonus. Nevertheless, the merits of this book are tarnished by the decision to reproduce these separate studies on the same theme without alteration. That this has led to inconsistency in, for example, the inclusion or omission of translation of extracts from primary material is of far less concern than the disturbing amount of repetition and duplication which has resulted. Not only is the same prolegomenary material, supported by reference to and quotation from the same authorities, reproduced from one chapter to the next, but also the same features of the same primary texts (for instance, versions of the Melusine myth) are often treated in several of the studies. It is to be hoped [End Page 263] that the more extensive study of the fairy-tale in medieval narrative to which the author identifies the present work as a prelude will offer the coherence and comprehensiveness that the topic deserves.

Daron Burrows
University of Manchester


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pp. 263-264
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