Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Reality Fictions: Romance, History and Governmental Authority, 1025-1180

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Reality Fictions: Romance, History and Governmental Authority, 1025-1180

Article excerpt

Robert M. Stein, Reality Fictions: Romance, History and Governmental Authority, 1025-1180 (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006). 294 pp. ISBN 0-268-04120-2. $30.00.

This book is an exploration of the relationship between literary innovation and changing socio-political structures. Its four chapters cover the key literary genres of the Middle Ages: hagiography, historiography, romance, and epic, with four extended 'case studies' discussed in the book's four chapters. 'Sacred authority and secular power: the bishops of Cambrai' focuses on the manipulation of hagiographical conventions in eleventh-century Cambrai to strengthen episcopal authority; in particular, Stein analyses the Life of St Aubert by Fulbert of Chartres and the way in which issues of secular and religious power are handled in the work, both on its own terms and in comparison to its sources. Chapter 2 discusses the narrative discourses produced in England in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, more specifically in relation to accounts of the death of Harold, from Guillaume of Poitiers to Wace's Roman de Rou and the quaint Vita Haroldi, where the defeated king does not die at Hastings but escapes to become a hermit and end his life in the odour of sanctity. The figure of Harold is compared to that of Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria, executed for treason, but also a local hero and, eventually, a saint: defeat is thus turned into victory, as the notion of England as a nation takes shape. In generic terms, Stein argues that hagiography turns into romance, reflecting the conceptual challenges brought about by the political changes after 1066. Romance is the focus of the third chapter, which deals with Arthurian material. …

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