Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Fecamp and Vernacular Historiography

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Fecamp and Vernacular Historiography

Article excerpt

Peter Damian-Grint's study of Anglo-Norman historiography, with its subtitle 'Inventing vernacular authority',1 sets out to depict authorial consciousness and self-presentation in a series of pioneering chronicle texts.2 At the end of his consideration of 'dynastic histories' he makes a passing reference to the Geste de Burch and the Histoirie de l'abbaye de Fecamp,3 but they receive no further consideration. The truth is that the Histoirie de l'abbaye de Fecamp (first half of the thirteenth century) has been totally neglected since it was first published in 1928,4 although it offers an instructive and substantial contribution to the subject of Damian-Grint's investigation, as well as raising a number of more general issues connected with translation. There is an undeniable need, therefore, for an appreciation of the work to appear in print.

Students of medieval adaptations and compilations of source texts arc familiar with the problem of the ambiguous nrst person: does it represent the voice of the source or of the adaptation?5 Embarrassing mistakes have been made through failure to recognize that a nrst-person anecdote in a medical compilation may not involve the compiler at all but simply be a feature of the source, unacknowledged. This raises the question of how, without the source to hand, a medieval or modern reader could be expected to interpret correctly the nature and status of the authority being utilized. Such problems can only be clarified by detailed study of the individual text as a micro-system, important in such study will be the evidence of authorial awareness, that is, the manner in which the author demonstrates his conception of his task, expresses his approach to his source, and, more particularly, seeks to distinguish his own voice from that of his predecessor(s). Are there any medieval terminological conventions which help to clarify the distinction? What is the function of source references? How is the first-person pronoun to be contextualized? Does the translator want any relationship to the source-author to be clearly defined or is there a planned ambiguity in the relationship as part of a rhetorical strategy? Inevitably, these issues acquire particular prominence in historiographical texts and the question of sources plays a prominent part in characterizing the nature and value of such texts.

In the present study of what is a previously unexplored text by an anonymous Norman historiographer-translator my intention is to examine the self-consciousness of the writer, who utilizes at least three different Latin sources, to see how clearly he defines, or wishes to be defined, his relationship to, and dependence on, his sources. How does he envisage his relationship with his audience, and what help does he give them to chart their way through the chronology of his narrative?

In his monograph on the Norman abbey of Fecamp, which he published in 1840, Leroux de Lincy edited an Old French poem of 750 octosyllabic lines from a fifteenth-century manuscript (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, MS f. fr. 1555) on the legend of the Precious Blood which was associated with the foundation of the abbey.6 Almost forty years later, Paul Meyer identified a much longer poem (6,068 lines, incomplete), also in Old French octosyllables, in MS 9446 (olim Ee 150) of the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid, a much earlier manuscript, dated to the middle of the thirteenth century.7 Half a century after Meyer's discovery a Finnish scholar, Oskari Kajava, studied the longer poem in Madrid and published detailed notes on the work with a full summary of its contents in modern French together with a new edition of the shorter poem already published by Leroux de Lincy.8 This paved the way for the edition of the long poem which was published by Kajava's mentor, Arthur Langfors, himself a distinguished pupil of Meyer, who established the Old French text and identified the poem's major sources.9

Langfors saw that the vernacular work fell into three parts, or books, corresponding to three distinct sources. …

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