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STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER study is a particularly fulsome account of early medieval uses of Jonah' (p. 239)? Or does 'fulsome' to her mean what 'full' means to me? One cannot be entirely out of sympathy with a reader of these poems who seeks to trace and convey the wealth of allusion they would have offered the fourteenth-century audience, but equally one cannot help wishing that it had been attempted with a sharper focus. CATHERINE LA FARGE the Queen's University of Belfast STEPHEN KNIGHT. Arthurian Literature and Society. New York: St. Mar­ tin's Press, 1983. Pp. xvi, 229. $25.00. The trouble with most studies of the Arthurian legend, says Stephen Knight, is their limitation ofapproach: they are frequently little more than surveys of the material and, even at that, are too "idealist;" that is, "they treat the Arthurian legend and its literature as if it exists in a world of its own, not in the periods and the societies that produced and consumed the material." He suggests that "a proper history of the Arthurian legend will investigate its historical function. It will ask what these texts were written for, what role they fulfilled in their period. It will be a history not of the legend itself, but of its integration in history." It will, in fact, be the book that Knight has written. As Knight points out, such a work could hardly be comprehensive without being encyclopedic; consequently, he has chosen to treat in detail certain particular works- Culhwch ac Olwen, Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum britanniae, Chretien'sLe Chevalier auLion, Malory's Morte D'Arthur, Tennyson'sIdylls oftheKing, and Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, as well as, more briefly, such works as Y Gododdin, Nennius, The Black Book of Carmathen, and several twen­ tieth-century treatments of the story of Arthur. Knight's basic approach hasbeen todemonstrate, withadmirable supporting detail, how each work mirrorsthe socialandideological concerns ofthe society whichproduced it. Thus, for example, the Historia serves as an extended meditation on the nature, the joys, and thedangers ofkingship, especially as perceived by the Norman rulers ofBritain. The narratives in the Historia (and especially in 210 REVIEWS the history of Arthur) on the one hand comfort the Normans by revising disturbing history and on the other hand warn them of possible dangers, particularly the danger of losing everything. Geoffrey as historical revi­ sionist may be seen in the story of Mont-Saint-Michel (in history Henry I, who had taken refuge there, was forced to leave in humiliation; in the Histaria this shame is reversed and exorcised in Arthur's defeat of the giant), and in the episode of the Roman war (Arthur's campaign against Lucius has, Knight argues, a broad historical parallel in Henry's campaigns against Louis VI, with the major exception that, whereas Henry failed, Arthur succeeded). But there is fear-fulfillment as well as wish-fulfillment in the Histaria: the treachery of Mordred and the consequent downfall of Arthur warned the Normans of the internal political and social tensions that could destroy them. Chretien's romances are concerned less with kingship than with the anxietiesand hopes of the barons who seek a place of their own in the social system. Malory's Marte is seen to deal with the tensions surrounding a fifteenth-century king who depends upon the power and loyalty of his lords and who, when they break into warring factions, is nearly helpless. Tennyson's Arthuriad is perceived as an almost reactionary document defending the patriarchal and aristocratic state and identifying women or "feminizing" as the prime destructive force in a masculine society. Yankee is a satire not just (or even primarily) of the Middle Ages but of the social and political abuses to be found in nineteenth-century Britain and Amer­ ica. Knight'sevaluations of the ideological relevances of these works are not lightly made; they are supported by frequent reference to contemporary events and concerns, with the result that, through the accumulation of data, he convincingly builds up his case. Such an approach is not without its problems. One is that, as long as he holds to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 210-212
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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