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Reviewed by:
  • Publishing the Grail in Medieval and Renaissance France by Leah Tether
  • Caroline Jewers
Publishing the Grail in Medieval and Renaissance France. By Leah Tether. (Arthurian Studies, 85.) Woodbridge: D. S. Brewer, 2017. xii + 202 pp., ill.

Leah Tether’s lively study surveys the production, diffusion, anthologizing, and recycling of Grail romances from the Conte du graal to c. 1530, when printed prose editions extended their ever-broadening reach to new audiences. The lack of closure in Chrétien’s romance became its greatest asset, seeding the work of adapters, continuators, anthologizers, and those who repackaged the Grail for patrons and the entrepreneurial book trade; Tether highlights the continuity of production in a seamless transition from verse to prose and thence to the point where new technology mechanized and altered the course of textual transmission. Her social history of grail texts focuses not on the content or style of the works, but on their connective tissue, yielding evidence of how they were positioned for patrons and publishers, and how they might have been received by readers. Tether searches for clues in the self-referential rhetoric of texts (prefaces, paratexts, dedications, and internal commentary), and how they are oriented with a view to marketing them. Crucial to her approach is the argument that the language we associate more with the practices of the modern book trade is apt to describe how grail texts advertise themselves in the medieval and early modern period, beginning with Chrétien’s prologue: here we find the equivalent of the blurbs we associate with contemporary mass-market fiction. Following recent trends in publishing studies, she applies the term ‘blurb’ to many different sorts of statements in earlier centuries that fulfil a similar function. Tether also argues that we should enlarge our definition of publication to include copying and presenting manuscripts, since they similarly open the text to further transmission in commercial centres of book production: printing simply shifts texts in a more commercial direction. Chapter 2 shows how Chrétien’s text is serially ‘blurbed’, highlighting the example of Guiot, whose self-marketing anticipates that of later publishers. Chapter 3 surveys the question of authorship, and how repositioning authors according to Gérard Genette’s categorization of ‘pseudonymity, anonymity, and onymity’ (cited p. 65) produced a variety of effects that in turn affected the strategic branding and presentation of a work. Chapter 4 takes a detailed look at trends of collecting works into anthologies and cycles, and Chapter 5 ends with a consideration of the complex link between patronage and promotion. Tether identifies three categories of sponsors, scripture-patron, livre-patron, and promotion-patron, which played a transitional and evolving role in the positioning and marketing of works. The author provides a cogent example of the utility and interest to be found in revisiting the transition from manuscript to book from this commercial perspective. She covers a lot of ground, and generally succeeds in her aim of showing Grail texts as an example of the intricate negotiations that took place in the process, acknowledging that this kind of investigation opens other promising avenues for study (Grail literature outside France, and in other languages; ownership; the mise-en-page of works; other kinds of later additional text and commentary; marginalia (p. 174)). Tether argues energetically that taking a publishing-studies approach offers added insight as we re-evaluate medieval and early modern book culture, and seek to understand more fully both the production of texts and their reception. [End Page 450]

Caroline Jewers
University of Kansas
...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-2931
Print ISSN
0016-1128
Pages
p. 450
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-21
Open Access
No
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