The Beginnings of Medieval Romance: Fact and Fiction, 1150-1220

The Beginnings of Medieval Romance: Fact and Fiction, 1150-1220

The Beginnings of Medieval Romance: Fact and Fiction, 1150-1220

The Beginnings of Medieval Romance: Fact and Fiction, 1150-1220

Synopsis

Up to the twelfth century, writing in the western vernaculars dealt almost exclusively with religious, historical and factual themes, all of which were understood to convey the truth. The second half of the twelfth century saw the emergence of a new genre--the romance--which was consciously conceived as fictional and therefore allowed to break free from traditional presuppositions. Green examines this period of crucial importance for the romance genre and for the genesis of medieval fiction.

Excerpt

The problem of fictionality has come to the fore recently in research on the medieval German romance, even though, surprisingly in view of the seminal importance of Chrétien de Troyes, the same is not so true of French scholarship. The two most important representatives of German scholarship in this field are W. Haug and F. P. Knapp. Haug confines himself to medieval authors' reflections as found in prologues and digressions, whilst Knapp offers a more theoretical approach to problems of genre. By contrast, my aim is practical rather than theoretical (how did various authors make use of the potentialities of fictionality in organising their narratives?), but also genetic rather than generic (in concentrating on the period 1150–1220 I focus on a short period of crucial importance for the birth of the romance and of medieval fiction in the vernacular). German narrative fiction after 1220 reacts to the preceding generation, it rings changes on it, deviates from it, parodies it, but scholarship dealing with this later fiction suffers from the lack of consensus over the nature of narrative fiction before 1220. Like Knapp, I am convinced that the time is too early for a systematic treatment of this complex problem, so that, like him, I deal with it in interrelated approaches, homing in on it from different angles.

A word needs to be said about another delimitation of the problem. I am concerned with the emergence of fictional writing in the twelfth century in one genre alone, the romance. This means excluding from consideration such genres as the chanson de geste and the lyric, for to have included these as well would have been unmanageable within the confines of one book. Only when the problem has been dealt with for all three genres can their interaction and interdependence be worked out. But that is a task for the future.

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