Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Constructing the Middle Ages in Contemporary Literature and Culture: The Reading of Iris Murdoch's the Green Knight. (Literature)

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Constructing the Middle Ages in Contemporary Literature and Culture: The Reading of Iris Murdoch's the Green Knight. (Literature)

Article excerpt

When Umberto Eco wrote that "books always speak of other books and every story tells a story that has already been told" (1994: 511, 512) he instigated an intertextual game which gave the writer the power to draw on the literary/textual tradition while the reader was assumed to have a certain presupposed knowledge enabling him/her to pick up the glove and respond to the challenge. In more recent works like Iris Murdoch's The Green Knight, one can find "hidden" texts (intertexts) that are identified and furthermore interpreted; this, as such, can be seen in the long quotation at the end of her novel. The author herself asks questions about the parallels between the medieval and contemporary text.

"Why does all this suddenly come upon me, thought Clement, why is it suddenly so significant? Had Aleph had some sort of intuition, a kind of mystical insight, when she gave Peter that name? Pieces of the story are there, but aren't they somehow jumbled up and all the wrong way round? Lucas cut off Peter's head, and Peter might have cut off his, but because he was noble and forgiving he only drew a little of Lucas's blood. It isn't really like the poem, yet, it is too, and it is something much more terrible. Lucas was brave and Peter was merciful. Or would Peter have killed Lucas if I hadn't been there? So am I also in the story? And Aleph, wasn't she the temptress, wasn't she what they both wanted? But that isn't quite right, the Lady was the wife of the Green Knight, and the Green Knight was good, though he was also a magician. Now Lucas is a magician too, and Lucas is not good, but Aleph is Lucas's wife. Yes, it is all mixed up. Lucas cut off Peter's head twice. He killed him first instead of me and second because he wanted the Lady. But how could Aleph have mysteriously conjured up this tale and this ending? What had Aleph meant when she called him the Green Knight? She may have intuitively seen further, seen him as a sort of instrument of justice, a kind of errant ambiguous moral face, like some unofficial wandering angel. He could have claimed a just retribution by killing Lucas, or better still perhaps maiming him. That was his first apparition. But then later he forgave him and punished him only by that small symbolic shedding of blood. Will Lucas cherish that scar ... There the first blow was struck by a provocation to a mysterious adventure, here, the first blow was struck by an evil magician whose victim reappeared as another, ultimately good, magician. And what about the temptress who in the story was the good magician's wife? Now the good one has gone, receding into his mystery, and the beautiful maiden has been awarded to the evil one" (Murdoch 1993: 432).

In a way, by providing the explanation of the medieval and contemporary parallels Murdoch flouts the rules of postmodern intertextual game at the same time giving the original Green Knight a very serious reading. In this paper I would like to explore the twilight zone in which the two texts clash and illuminate the symmetry as well as the non-equivalence following from this interrelation. In short, I hope to uncover the gaps between the medieval and the contemporary.

In a great bulk of contemporary literature intertextual allusions are of, as Linda Hutcheon (1999: 40)1 claims, the "parodic/ironic" kind (Fowles' collection The Ebony Tower) but the transformation of the intertext can also be complementary to the earlier text expanding the scope of its meaning (Margaret Elphinstone's "The Green Man"). Both subscribe to the Barthesian principle of deja lu (already read) adding new dimensions to contemporary works. Nevertheless, in such cases the Middle Ages functions not so much as a cultural (this is more noticeable in films) but primarily as a discernible literary intertext establishing the analogy, the continuity between the medieval and contemporary traditions. (2) Although romance as a genre presents one of the possible areas of research into intertexts, generic transactions and postmodern reinterpretations are of less importance here as they have been thoroughly researched by others, e. …

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