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REVIEWS comparative study. She draws not only on literary texts but on historical, religious, and medical as well. She employs not only the methods of literary criticism but also the comparative methods of anthropology and religious studies. McCracken’s ambition, however, is not limited simply to showing the ways in which quaint medieval ideas about blood grounded antiquated cultural beliefs about gender. Rather, she shows how persistent these ideas have been over time, even as the science and theology that underwrote them have been exploded. The story of Perceval ’s sister in the thirteenth-century Queste del saint graal provides a means of reading Alice Cooper’s ‘‘Only Women Bleed.’’ Joan of Arc and Ridley Scott’s G.I. Jane provide remarkably similar commentaries on the anxieties that surround the woman warrior, anxieties as deeply embedded in our cultural consciousness in the wake of the first Gulf War as they were during the Hundred Years’ War, when Joan was burned at the stake. (One can hardly resist invoking as further evidence of such anxiety Newt Gingrich’s 1995 comment that women are unfit for combat because of their ‘‘monthly infections.’’) The brief analysis of HansJu ̈rgen Syberberg’s 1982 film of Wagner’s Parsifal might be considered emblematic of McCracken’s method: a late ‘‘twentieth-century interpretation of a nineteenth-century opera based on a thirteenth-century German romance’’ (p. 108). However, McCracken never allows her comparative method to become monolithic or essentialist; rather, each text is carefully located in its particular historical time and space; each elucidates the values embedded in the gender system of its own time. But such histories are not viewed as a series of discrete, isolated moments of time. Instead, the earlier texts and the hierarchies for which they are vehicles are shown to be sedimented in later ones, part of the European cultural imaginary that, despite its overvaluation of classical and Enlightenment values, is still surprisingly medieval. Laurie Finke Kenyon College Richard J. Moll. Before Malory: Reading Arthur in Later Medieval England . Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003. Pp. ix, 368. $60.00. With this wide-ranging study of medieval Arthurian narratives, Richard Moll challenges the ‘‘modern supremacy of Malory’s narrative,’’ arguing PAGE 339 339 ................. 11491$ CH13 11-01-10 14:02:45 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER that it is ‘‘less like the inevitable culmination of medieval Arthurian traditions’’ than a sharp divergence from the Brut tradition, especially in Malory’s willingness to ‘‘accept a wide variety of material as authentic ’’ (p. 228). Moll’s main thesis is that chronicle writers before Malory were far more discriminating; they consistently sought to distinguish between the romance character and the historical figure, and were eager to defend the historicity of the Galfredian narrative. Moll excavates chronicles, both well known and obscure, and discovers a sharp awareness of competing narrative traditions and a critical, sophisticated historiographical consciousness that guided these chroniclers through the complexities of disparate textual traditions. In chapter 1, ‘‘The Years of Romance,’’ Moll surveys chronicles containing Arthurian matter, from universal chronicles such as Jacob van Maerlant’s Spiegal Historiael to Wace’s Roman de Brut and Mannyng’s Chronicle. The thirteenth-century Flemish chronicler, Maerlant, provides the most explicit discussion of competing narrative traditions, criticizing ‘‘the silly fictions’’ of the Grail legend popularized in the French prose Vulgate cycle and casting aspersions on writers who included characters not found ‘‘in the Latin.’’ Chroniclers such as Wace and Mannyng offered less extensive commentary, but they were more influential, and their handling of competing narrative traditions shaped the strategies of subsequent writers. Wace’s particular contribution was twofold. He questioned the veracity of those adventures ascribed to the first period of peace by post-Galfredian storytellers, and this, in turn, encouraged writers to view that peaceful interlude as a potential repository for romance material. In this way, Wace created ‘‘a narrative space within the chronicle tradition in which dubious narratives could exist, albeit without any claim to historical veracity’’ (p. 16). Mannyng followed Wace’s lead but added a further distinction: he located untrustworthy material culled from verse romance in the first period of peace, and he relegated episodes derived from the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 339-342
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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