- Medieval Romances Across European Borders ed. by Miriam Edlich-Muth
As the first volume in a new series dedicated to ‘medieval narratives in transmission,’ this collection will likely serve as a model for subsequent contributions to the series, which ‘aims to provide a forum for publications on the relationships between the content, form, and media of medieval narratives as they intersect with social, cultural, and linguistic contexts’ (back cover). Throughout her introduction, Miriam Edlich-Muth emphasizes the ways in which the included essays consider these relationships and contexts as continuously dismantling and reconstructing any conception of European literature by reading texts and themes that cross traditional geographic, cultural, and historical ‘borders.’ Instead of attempting to identify ‘linear generations of descent,’ the scholarship assembled within this volume ‘remains open to moments of similarity and difference,’ thereby illuminating ‘the rich variety of methodological approaches available to comparative scholars of medieval texts’ (p. 5). The ten essays are split into three sections that reflect the foundational questions motivating the collection.
The first section, ‘Genre and Context,’ consists of three chapters that explore the relationships between genre and reception history. Bart Besamusca opens this section with an analysis of the placement of romances within three Middle Dutch multi-text codices. While Besamusca acknowledges the complications that genre classifications entail, he nevertheless asserts that genre can be a useful tool for beginning to understand how a given text relates to others within a single manuscript, allowing for a ‘more comprehensive view of these manuscripts and their text collections’ (p. 29). Elizabeth Dearnley turns our attention to ‘narrative, generic and thematic’ [End Page 78] similarities between ‘Bisclavret and its analogues, and the numerous tales written about Slender Man’ in order to explore what the transmission patterns of materials in online, collaborative forums might tell us about medieval manuscript culture as well as the continued popularity of specific types of supernatural narratives (p. 34). Miriam Edlich-Muth discusses two distinct yet related versions of the Floire et Blanchefleur story: an Italian hagiographic rendering and an Icelandic rimur based on the Old Norse version of the romance. Parallels between the accounts ‘illustrate how relatively small changes in emphasis can refocus the generic overtones of the whole narrative’ (p. 73), lending credence to the suggestion that the hagiographic version of the tale is a long-standing component of the legend that contributed to its early development across Europe.
The four chapters that make up the second section, ‘Translation as Adaptation,’ are all focused on how the work of translators and adaptors reconstruct narratives for new reading communities in ways that speak to the many perceived meanings of a single story. This section begins with Virgile Reiter’s exploration of what the Scandinavian translators’ decision to give Blanzeflor a more active role in the narrative might tell us about how Flores och Blanzeflor speaks to medieval Scandinavian perceptions of aristocratic gender roles. Reiter concludes that although the narrative contains misogynistic elements, it ultimately depicts men and women as complementing one another with their unique attributes, thereby offering ‘models of conduct and entertainment’ for both (p. 92). Sofia Lodén also discusses a Scandinavian reinterpretation of femininity, focusing on the characters of Laudine and Lunete in Herr Ivan, whom she sees as representing ‘female ideals rather than sophisticated literary characters’ (p. 104). Venetia Bridges compares two important twelfth-century manuscripts containing romans antiques, arguing that both ‘emphasize the triumph of translatio studii over translatio imperii’ and that ‘this thematic triumph occurs in both collections despite their different social and political origins’ (p. 127). Sif Rikhardsdottir traces the connections between Clári saga, its purported Latin source, and other maiden king romances, many of which were indigenous to Iceland, in order to suggest that ‘questions of origin’ should perhaps be secondary to ‘those of originality and its function within the diffusion of the romance as a genre across Europe’ (p. 149).
The final section, ‘Continuities,’ contains three essays that trace the development of central themes from well-known French Arthurian romances as they are retold in...