A History of Arthurian Scholarship

Article excerpt

NORRIS J. LACY, ed., A History of Arthurian Scholarship. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2006. Pp. 285. ISBN: 1 84384 069 3. $85.00.

Norris J. Lacy, who is the architect of such vital Arthurian works as The New Arthurian Encyclopedia and the first complete translation of the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, has once again assembled a stellar team of scholars to produce this outstanding history of Arthurian scholarship. The scope of the volume is ambitious. As the editor writes, it sets out to survey the scholarship relating to 'the origins of the Arthurian legend, Grail sources, editing and all the major Arthurian literatures of the Middle Ages, from the frustratingly enigmatic Welsh texts to the rich Continental tradition and back to the insular. We also treat modern Arthuriana in English, medieval and modern art, film and translation' (ix).

This excellent collection of essays is generally successful in achieving its ambitious aim. The only flaw is that a few of the essays fall short of a complete treatment of their subjects. Tony Hunt's essay on 'Editing Arthuriana,' for instance, offers a very good survey of important developments in the editing of German and French Arthurian texts. It might, however, have given more attention to English texts, which are treated in only two paragraphs, the longer of which is devoted entirely to Malory. The essay might have acknowledged the significance, for example, of Sir Walter Scott's edition of Sir Tristrem, which set the pattern for subsequent editions of Middle English texts; or of Frederic Madden's collection of Gawain romances. In addition, one would expect some mention of the Early English Text Society as well as the TEAMS Middle English Texts Scries, which has to date provided excellent new editions of nineteen Middle English Arthurian romances.

Similarly, Jeanne Fox-Fricdman's essay on 'Modern Arthurian Art' treats well some of the major books on modern Arthurian art and the scholarship on some Victorian (particularly Pre-Raphaelite) art but is wanting when it comes to other nineteenth- and twentieth-century artists. There is no discussion of scholarship on major modern figures like Gustave Doré, Aubrey Beardsley, Arthur Rackham, Russell Flint, and David Jones; nor is there a discussion of the ways in which modern artists have treated major works like Malory's Morte d'Arthur and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

In both of these cases, the omissions may be due in part to the amorphous and wide-ranging nature of the subject as well as the primary interests of the authors-just as my selection of these items for comment reflects some of my own interests.

Other omissions in the volume are intentional. The editor wisely acknowledges and explains certain omissions and choices, such as the decision to focus in the chapter on translation only on translations into English of works originally written in another language and in the discussion of modern Arthurian literature the exclusion of criticism of works in languages other than English.

But even though the volume does not include everything everyone would want-clearly an impossibility-it does contain so much of value that it is indispensable for anyone interested in the Arthurian legends. …