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Reviews 235 Weiss, Judith, ed., Wace's Roman de Brut, A History of the British, Text and Translation, Exeter, University of Exeter Press, 1999; paper; pp. xix, 385; RRP £16.99. Dr Judith Weiss, of Cambridge, in 1997, working with Rosamund Allen produce for Everyman's Library a translation of Wace's Roman de Brut in a volume entitled The Life of King Arthur and which included a translation of Lawman's Brut. Then, as now, Weiss was concerned with Ivor Arnold's two-volume edition ofLe Roman de Brut by Wace, then translating it very closely, but now making 'many small changes to [its text] which restore readings in the manuscripts he used'(p. ix), and so, otherwise, 're-issuing' that text and numbering together with a facing page prose translation. The resulting large format volume - for it treats ofa text of nearly 15,000 rhyming octosyllabic French couplets - is a handsome, very legible and judiciously annotated edition of thefirstextant vernacular 'history' ofBritain by the Norman-French cleric Wace. As the careful and hugely informative introduction explains, this history i s largely derived from Geoffrey ofMonmouth, whose Historia Regum Britanniae was written somewhere about 1137. Wace who was born on the island of Jersey late in thefirstdecade of the twelfth century provides us with most of the known details of his life, nurtured in Caen where he learned Latin and where he also 'made books in Romance, perhaps reading them aloud and, as throughout his life, apparently addressing a lay audience'. Whether he actually taught or no, he appears to have been a professional writer and literary man, producing translations , romans, serventeis or duty-poems, chronicles and saints' lives. The enormous success of the Historia in the later 1130s must have made him realise that he could 'translate' from Latin into French, in which activity, under the encouraging patronage of King Henry II, he seems to have cleared his numerous rivals from thefield.And the completed work was presented in 1155 to Henry's queen, Eleanor ofAquitaine, as a history of her new land. As Weiss stresses most significantly, 'Wace wrote for a Norman public which had a strong interest in the history and legends of their adopted country' (p. xiii). This contemporary setting explains both the Historia itself and its distinctive style. The trenchant yet illuminating section, 'British History and Historiography Before the Twelfth Century', indicates the steadily developing and ever more subjective stances, from Gildas and Bede, to Nennius who added the 'foundation' myth, the genealogies of various English kings, details of Ambrosius as supreme king ofBritain and the 12 campaigns ofan isolated figure, 236 Reviews Arthur the battle-leader, dux bellorum. Yet other pre-Geoffrey of Monmouth texts by Welsh authors contribute the name Uther Pendragon, and in some of them Arthur's queen, Quennuvar, is violated and abducted. The present editor makes many subtle and significant points about the next wave of defining and shaping contributions by Geofrrey of Monmouth, notably: (a) a long line of named kings with various life-stories, as of Lear; (b) 'a pattern of rise, decline and final loss tightly connected to moral strength and weakness'(p. xvii); (c) a synthesis of the 'historical' accounts of Arthur as a British leader and various snippets of Welsh allusion to 'a prince with a queen and a band of supporters, whose folkloric exploits were clearly widely known' (p. xvii); (d) the amalgamation of two distinctfiguresinto Merlin, the mysterious product of a supernatural union. This vastly popular work has survived in over 200 manuscripts. The rest of this luminous introduction is more probing and technical as it appraises Wace's work and the various editorial treatments of his text, as well as the Variant Version. Yet Wace, for all his care in translation felt himselffreeto add many details of a highly atmospheric sort; much in the way of causality, tragedy and pathos; extension of Geoffrey's notions of domestic treachery; and a fuller treatment ofthe Arthurian triangle ofthe king betrayed by his wife and nephew, the former committing incest, and the latter high treason as well. Wace is also shown to have loved English toponymy, advancing 'many fanciful etiologies', and to have savoured...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 235-237
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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