Pulp Fictions of Medieval England: Essays in Popular Romance

Pulp Fictions of Medieval England: Essays in Popular Romance

Pulp Fictions of Medieval England: Essays in Popular Romance

Pulp Fictions of Medieval England: Essays in Popular Romance

Synopsis

Nicola McDonald's collection and the romances it investigates are crucial to our understanding of the aesthetics of medieval narrative and to the ideologies of gender and sexuality, race, religion, political formations, social class, ethics, morality and national identity with which those narratives emerge. It should be valuable reading for specialists of medieval English literature and for theorists of medieval and modern popular culture; yet its inclusion of detailed introductory material makes it equally accessible to students, both undergraduate and postgraduate, taking courses in medieval literature.

Excerpt

In the debate concerning precisely what constitutes a medieval ‘romance’ the Siege of Melayne occupies a special position. As a number of readers have noted, this poem participates in the conventions both of romance (understood as a genre fundamentally concerned with the deeds of knights) and of hagiography. The focus of such cross-generic readings is usually the character of Archbishop Turpin who, as Barron puts it, has ‘as much of the saint as of the soldier in his nature’. The crossgeneric status of the Siege of Melayne is also in evidence in the dramatic scene which takes place in the chamber of the sultan Arabas, when a crucifix is cast by the Saracens into a great fire and, miraculously, does not burn. Elsewhere in the poem, too, as I will illustrate below, religious and even eucharistic imagery plays a vital role in the unfolding of the narrative. Yet I do not wish to argue that the generic distinctions of romance and hagiography are collapsed in the Siege of Melayne, or for that matter in any other medieval romance, for such efforts have not met with success. Diana Childress has suggested that the overlap between romance and hagiography can be best understood by defining a new category of ‘secular legend’: ‘From romance the secular legend borrows settings, style, and many story motifs … But instead of entertaining their audiences … the authors of the secular legends aim to teach moral lessons.’ Andrea Hopkins has found, however, that this is not the case in a group of texts which she identifies as ‘penitential romances.’ Like Childress’s ‘secular legends’, these romances feature a hero who ‘does penance for his sinfulness or who may patiently undergo physical hardship and deprivation and who is rescued or rescues others by divine miracles’. Yet Hopkins concludes that these romances were not thought ‘to constitute a fundamentally different kind of literature from other romances which do not deal with predominantly religious . . .

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