- Emotions in Medieval Arthurian Literature: Body, Mind, Voice ed. by Frank Brandsma, Carolyne Larrington, and Corinne Saunders
The editors of this essay collection have produced an invaluable contribution to Arthurian studies by capturing here seminal discussions centering on emotions in medieval Arthurian texts. The essays featured in this collection represent various approaches toward the subject matter and cover a broad range of languages (English, [End Page 72] Dutch, German, Norwegian, French, and Latin), while focusing on embodiment and affect.
The introduction to the book, co-authored by Brandsma, Larrington, and Saunders, expresses some of the underlying difficulties inherent in interpreting emotional expressions in medieval literary texts. Such challenges include questions 'of methodology, of medieval conceptions of and terminology for feelings, of the gap between modern and medieval emotional regimes and communities, [and] of the constructed nature of the emotions in literary texts' (p. 2). They situate their work well within the broad historical trajectory of scholarly research on emotions, recounting the work of philosophers (Descartes), scholars of various fields (Nussbaum, Deleuze, Guattari), and members of the medical community (Damasio), before outlining the recent affective turn in medieval studies (spearheaded by historians like Rosenwein and Nagy), and finally stating the need for a comparative analysis of emotion in Arthurian literature. The answers that this book provides, they posit, are 'tentative, provisional or provocative' and are intended to encourage further debate (p. 10)–an assessment with which I tend to agree.
Readers may find the grouping of the essays to be arbitrary, but this is a minor critique of an otherwise well-edited work. The first part of this collection (Part I: Thinking about Emotions in Arthurian Literature) comprises three essays. Jane Gilbert's essay uses Sartre to stage the connection between emotional immediacy and magic, an 'emotion-magic trope' that she then employs to analyze the prose Lancelot. Gilbert's work productively establishes a connection between the uncontrollable forces of magic, emotion, and affect. Corinne Saunders then outlines the shift from Cartesian dualism towards phenomenology in order to explain the complex mind-body connection inherent in medieval psychology. She traces ideas of mind, body, and affect within the romance tradition by glossing such works as Ywain and Gawain, Sir Launfal, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Malory's Le Morte Darthur. Part I then ends with Andrew Lynch's contribution, which analyzes the link between Arthurian emotions (especially 'cheer') and actions in Laæamon's Brut, Thomas Chestre's Sir Launfal, and Malory's Le Morte Darthur.
The second part of this book (Part II: Bodies, Minds and Voices: Investigating Emotion in Arthurian Texts) begins with Anatole Pierre Fuksas' essay, which relies on recent findings in neuroscience and psychology (Damasio, Glenberg) to discuss links between emotion and language and how these effect emotional responses and modulations in the narrative and in emotional communities. Anne Baden-Daintree's essay brings gender into a discussion of emotional displays, especially through an examination of those expressions of grieving and vengeance elicited by Gawain's death. Raluca L. Radulescu's work focuses on Malory's utilization of emotional expressions for political reasons, as he invites an audience's empathy for characters who experience extreme emotions. Radulescu finds parallels in fifteenth-century culture that indicate the public use of emotions in 'highly politicized moments' (p. 121). Carolyne Larrington traces the topos of Gawain as a Scheintoter (apparently dead) in various traditions by distinguishing between A-emotions (artifact-based) and F-emotions (fiction-based) in the texts, especially when emotional reactions of [End Page 73] characters are tied to the idea of Gawain's death rather than to his apparently dead body. Frank Brandsma's chapter uses quantitative techniques to determine the usage of such mini-words as 'ay' in narratives and ruminates on their uses in potential performances of texts and in audience reactions to texts. Sif Rikhardsdottir's work explores the reactions of grieving widows (particularly their smiles and tears) in Icelandic, French, and Norwegian romances to signify the...