- Aspects of Malory (review)
- Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Inc.)
- Number 1, 1983
- pp. 141-143
- View Citation
Review Aspects of Malory, edited by Toshiyuki Takarniya and Derek Brewer. Suffolk, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 1981, pp. x, 232. Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur is part of a tradition of reinterpretation and legitimate updating of the Arthurian legend, a tradition to which Caxton's subjective editing of Malory's version may well be seen to belong. Interest in Arthuriana, both scholarly and popular, continues stronger than ever today. Similarly, in the field of criticism, there may be said to have evolved a cult of Maloriana, whereby critics continually re-examine and re-evaluate what is known about Malory and his methods. Such a text is Aspects of Malory, a collection of essays on those aspects of the story which remain contentious—Malory's prose style, his sources, the sequence of his tales, the early history and publication of the manuscript, and finally the identity of the author himself. The over-riding impression created by this collection, however, is one of objectivity, of sound and honest scholarship. The reader is assured that, aside from an earlier collaboration between Doctors Hellinga and Kelliher, the essayists were unaware of each other's contributions and the joint editors have made no attempt to reconcile any apparently conflicting views, believing that it is often from honest differences that new advances in understanding arise. They are nevertheless impressed by the frequent convergence of views taken from different points. (p.x) Such an approach is markedly different from that of the Tulane critics in Malory's Originality, and the willingness to present all evidence, that which retards the argument as well as that which advances it, is refreshing. At the same time, the honesty of Terence McCarthy in "The Sequence of Malory's Tales" is reminiscent of a man playing chess against himself. He presents and demolishes several different arguments, ultimately checkmating his own theories as well as those of other critics. His position after seventeen pages, that There are problems within Le Morte Darthur which fit the traditional sequence rather awkwardly. No new order, of course, is likely to solve all the inconsistencies and contradictions, not even likely perhaps to fit all the evidence we can muster, and ultimately the order in which Malory chose (if he did the choosing) to present the tales is the one the critic must concentrate on as he examines the total effect of the book, (p.123) seems scarcely worth contending. McCarthy does, however, alert us to the dangers inherent in approaching a problem with preconceptions as to its outcome. In spite of their objectivity and lack of collaborative purpose, these essayists succeed in providing a de facto case for a more conscious intention and greater originality on the part of Malory than have heretofore been 142 Review plausibly revealed. Both Vinaver and Mary Hynes-Berry demonstrate, one by stylistic means, the other by a consideration of matiere and sen, that the Tale of the Sankgreall is not just a translated abridgement of Queste del Saint Graal, that Malory's style is his own and "reflects his perception of the story" (p.103). Shunichi Noguchi is able to point out to us the very Englishness of Malory's reinterpretation of his sources, especially the French sources, and Jill Mann finds that the episodic, fragmented style of the Tale of King Arthur is peculiarly suited to a narrative "dominated by chance" (p.80), and ought not to be dismissed as an embryonic example of Malory's artistic skill. Edward D. Kennedy and P.J.C. Field provide theories and evidence for further English sources known and culled from by Malory. Given the popularity of the non-cyclic romances in fourteenth and fifteenth-century England, it seems highly likely that Malory would have had access to a number of them. To suggest that he borrowed from them does not diminish Malory's originality; it simply brings it into line with his method elsewhere in Le Morte Darthur (as for example, in "The Healing of Sir Urry", where no complete source but a number of analogues have been identified). I cannot, however, agree with Kennedy's further point (pp.46-7) that Malory, like Hardyng in his Chronicle, is able to...