Sir Thomas Malory, His Turbulent Career: A Biography

By Edward Hicks | Go to book overview

Chapter XVI
MALORY'S PROSE STYLE

HAD Malory been permitted to pass his life on his manor of Newbold Revel, it is exceedingly unlikely that he would have had access to the manuscript books which were necessary to him in compiling the Morte. This, it must be remembered, was fused into its actual form out of crude materials ten times greater in bulk. When Malory began his task, the best of the Arthurian romances were still in French. But cultivated England was now following Chaucer's lead and ceasing to talk French; and Malory -- with Wycliffe's example before him -- would have no doubt as to what language would henceforth hold sway in England.

It should here be noted how prominently the Midlands were represented in this nationalist reaction. Layamon and Walter Langland are household words to us; and Lawrence Minot, who flourished exactly a century before Malory and whose dialect in his ballads proclaims him a Midlander, is the first to give literary expression to the protest against our native language falling to obscure rank and menial uses. It is worth noting, too, as a coincidence, that the fourteenth-century metrical Morte Arthur (one of the source-books used by Malory) has been definitely assigned to "the Northern border of the West Midland region" -- precisely that part of England in which Sir Thomas spent his early days.

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