Reading Romance: Literacy, Psychology, and Malory's le Morte D'Arthur

By Margaret Dumais Svogun | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Approaches to Romance

"'. . . the age of chivalry is dead.' It always was: let no one think the worse of it on that account.”

C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love

Medieval romance is often widely considered to represent chiefly an effort to codify and express the tenets of chivalry, to relate the exploits of those men and women whose exclusive concerns were love and honor, and to define “by way of example, the High Order of Knighthood”. 1

Yet C.S. Lewis asserts forthrightly that, not only is the age of chivalry now dead, but that “It always was”—that in fact it never really existed. Lewis, however, goes on to defend the so-called age of chivalry despite its immateriality, maintaining that

these phantom periods for which the historian searches in vain—the Rome and Greece that the Middle Ages believed in, the British past of Malory or Spenser, the Middle Age itself as was conceived by the Romantic revival—all these have their place in a history more momentous than that which commonly bears the name. 2

It is Lewis's belief that the tales which are generally called romances, and commonly considered chronicles of the chivalric code, constitute in fact the history of the rise and development of romantic love—an imaginative history, a history of sentiment and of a change in human consciousness, and therefore more significant than any record of mere external events; for it is Lewis's view that romantic love is an invention that “effected a change which has left no corner of our ethics, our imagination or our daily life untouched” and that “compared with this revolution, the Renaissance is a mere ripple on the surface of literature.” 3

Of course, both before and since Lewis, many readers have found in romance something other than, or in addition to, descriptive narrative of

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