Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Medieval Welsh Literature

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Medieval Welsh Literature

Article excerpt

Andrew Breeze, Medieval Welsh Literature (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1997) pp. ISBN 1-85182-229-1. L27.50.

Within just I 5 pages of text, Andrew Breeze strives to provide a survey of Welsh literature from the very earliest poetry to the early sixteenth century. The dust-jacket confidently informs us that this book is `the first general history of the literature of medieval Wales'. Even with regard to publications in English, this is simply not the case. The two volumes of Jarman and Rees Hughes's Guide to Welsh Literature have been available since 1976 (revised 199z) and 1979 (revised 1997), but curiously this standard work is never once mentioned. Breeze is, however, more modest in his claims than his publisher, stating only that his book is `for newcomers to the subject'; but whether it is suitable for beginners is questionable.

The coverage is uneven, with scant attention to later prose, for example, whilst there are lengthy excursuses on comparatively minor points. If the book is aimed at a reader new to Welsh literature, the detailed comparisons with English poetry or the technical discussions about syntactic considerations for dating texts are inappropriate. Too often the author focuses on minor points of detail but neglects the most basic facts, for example that Welsh poetry is never narrative. Space is also wasted on irrelevant asides: does the reader new to Welsh literature really need to know in great detail how the Hendregadredd manuscript reached the National Library of Wales and that the donors' collection of Impressionist paintings was bequeathed to the National Museum?

Many of Breeze's arguments are controversial and in itself this is no bad thing: one can only welcome a fresh, critical look at accepted ideas about texts. …

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