William Farina seeks to address the problem that although Chrétien de Troyes' five romances are Western literature's first extant corpus to crystallize the Arthurian legend and incorporate love relationships and the grail, there is a 'lack of familiarity with his name in the English-speaking world' (212). Farina's intended audience is the non-specialist reader of Arthurian literature who knows primarily English texts. The guide offers an introduction to Chrétien and the twelfth-century French social, political and literary contexts in order to 'heighten awareness of Arthur's 'Frenchness' among readers' (7). The book contains three parts, each with seven to nine short chapters.
Part I, 'Literary Themes: The Poet,' opens with presentations on Lancelot, the influence of Arabic love poetry on Arthuriana, and Chrétien's Welsh sources (upon which he greatly expanded). Next come chapters on the representation of romantic love and its depiction in Cligés. Chapter 6 describes the variety and complexity of ideas in the changing twelfth century from Spain, Wales, Byzantium, Rome (especially Ovidian works), the large Angevin empire, and Brittany that shape Chrétien's world. The unique combination of these factors helped produce the literary genius of Chrétien's oeuvre. Discussions of Aquitaine (a short-lived link between Islamic Spain and northern France destroyed in the Albigensian crusade), Arthurian geography, and Geoffrey of Monmouth follow. While Geoffrey's works helped popularize the Arthurian legend, Farina shows that Chrétien had more influence on it than did Geoffrey.
Part II, 'Historical Themes: The Knight,' treats chivalry: its development across Europe, Chrétien's complex representation of knights and knighthood, and its depiction in Erec and Enide. A chapter on Sir Thomas Malory, who like Geoffrey is far better known today than Chrétien, examines Malory's debt to Chrétien. Farina attributes Malory's darker Arthurian world to the waning of chivalry in Malory's time. Chapter 13, 'Restless Second Sons,' considers parallels between the Arthurian corpus and historical examples of the sons who cannot inherit. Chapter 14 posits that crusader knights passing through Italy may have shared stories that sparked an early Arthurian sculpture and a mosaic there. In the chapters that follow, Farina suggests that Viking expansion and assimilation in Normandy, followed by the then-assimilated Normans into Spain, and then England during the Norman Conquest, [End Page 96] helped set the stage for the development of the Arthurian materials. He also points out how Henry and Eleanor's wedding extended the Angevin realm. Part II concludes with chapters on Yvain and Perceval, contextualizing the latter as an indirect response to the loss of the crusader kingdom.
Part III, 'Religious Themes,' first discusses the expanding role of clerics (in literary and other domains) and then summarizes arguments for and against Chrétien's authorship of Guillaume d'Angleterre. A chapter on Merlin points out that the wizard, although important in other Arthurian texts, plays but a small role in Chrétien's writings. Chapter 20 argues for general influences of twelfth-century theology (Bernard of Clairvaux and others) on Chrétien. Perceval forms the subject of Chapters 21-23: the uniqueness of the character of Perceval in Chrétien's work, possible interpretations of the grail and lance and potential contributions from the extensive Jewish community of Troyes. The last chapter in the section reminds us that in light of all the contextual material available for the romances, we know very little about Chrétien himself.
This rapid overview of the numerous chapters may suggest a haphazard approach on the part of the author, but that is not the case. Farina presents the extensive and varied social, geographical, and historical background in lively, engaging prose that succinctly links many topics including some Arthurian films, although there is occasional repetition. The maps and timeline of the High Middle Ages are useful.
However, the study relies on very few literary critics and/or translators (among them Urban T. Holmes, Roger Sherman Loomis, C.S. Lewis, Joseph Duggan...