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  • Yseut: la vie, la mort, le renouvellement par Leonardo Hincapié
  • Finn E. Inclair
Yseut: la vie, la mort, le renouvellement. Par Leonardo Hincapié. Paris: La Fontaine de Pierre, 2017. 283 pp.

This study focuses on the character of Iseult in the romance of Tristan and Iseult, examining her depiction in the French romances by Béroul and Thomas, but drawing also on the Prose Tristan, the German versions by Gottfried von Strassburg and Eilhart von Oberge, and the Norwegian adaptation of Thomas's romance composed by Brother Robert. Leonardo Hincapié links the medieval narrative with its mythological antecedents, revealing the connections between the medieval characterization of Iseult and the feminine archetypes that appear in a range of tales from Indo-European mythology. Jungian theories of the collective unconscious and in particular the feminine principle are used to frame the study, and Hincapié explores the symbolic values of aspects of Iseult's por-trayal, dividing her personage into the three aspects of the feminine archetype—the creator, the healer, and the destroyer—exemplified in this narrative by the tripling of the Iseult character: Iseult the Queen Mother, Iseult the Blonde, and Iseult of the White Hands. The study is divided into five chapters. The first sets the context for the analysis, identifying the relevant Jungian archetypes and introducing the idea of the feminine principle. The feminine principle as symbol of eros is seen as a psychological and mythological principle central to narratives of love, and Iseult as a prime example of this complex principle. Chapter 2 usefully presents a résumé of the romance, while Chapter 3 discusses Iseult as a goddess avatar in her tripartite aspects as the fée guérisseuse, the fée aimée, and the troisième fée, linked with wounding and death. Chapter 4 explores the symbolic construction of the Tristan and Iseult legend, and Chapter 5 examines the significance of the feminine principle within it. This final chapter engages with the central question of the research: why does this histoire d'amour have a tragic ending? Hincapié draws on Jungian theory here, linking the goddess/princess archetype with the transformation and renewal of the Self (le Moi). If the happy ending of a love story guarantees the rebalancing of the individual or collective psyche, as Hincapié suggests, what then is the effect of a tragic ending? Hincapié rather sidesteps this, pointing to the symbolic interlacing of trees over the tombs of Tristan and Iseult that appears in several versions of the tale. Symbol of renewal and transformation, the trees guarantee the symbolic survival of the archetypes of the Hero and the Beauty, as represented by Tristan and Iseult. The conclusion links the Hero with the Self and sees the renewal and resurrection that appears at the end of the romance as stemming from an ancient symbolism, and the tripartite Iseult as representing the profound realities of the soul which confront the Hero/Self The strength of this study lies in its analysis of the connections between the various versions of the Tristan and Iseult legend, and with the mythological archetypes that prefigure and inform the medieval text. The linking of the Self with the Hero archetype and the argument's Jungian framing could, however, be more convincing. [End Page 281]

Finn E. Inclair
University of Edinburgh


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