This chapter is designed to provide a transition between the discussion of narrative experientiality in oral narrative in Chapter 2 and the presentation, in Chapter 4, of experiential modes of narration from the realist to the Modernist novel. The chapter will therefore trace a complex set of developments on several levels of analysis.
To start with, the texts that will be discussed (medieval and early modern prose, verse narrative) are written texts, some of which, however, are considered to have been transmitted orally before getting fixed in a written mould. The chapter therefore traces a development from what are traditionally believed to be oral kinds of narrative to texts allegedly modelled on the oral pattern to texts which have become emancipated from the oral tradition and have initiated a new (written) mode of écriture.
Second, the literature treated in this chapter comprises a great variety of genres. No argument is here proffered that would claim a direct development from one genre into another, but an interdependence and mutual fertilization will be acknowledged to exist between some generic traditions. No complete account can be provided in the space of one brief chapter, so that whatever I have to say in these pages will necessarily need to remain sketchy and impressionistic. 1 The situation in Middle English literature is complicated by a number of frame conditions which in their intricacy exceed even the complexities of the French circumstances. For instance, the existence has to be noted of an Old English tradition (both prose and verse) which ‘breaks off’ at the time of the Norman conquest and results in a resumption of Latin writing (in prose) even for those genres where the vernacular had already been in use before, as for instance in the Anglo-Saxon chronicles (Tristram 1988). Middle English ‘resumes’ its formal circulation only in the thirteenth century, and it does so in both verse and prose, although prose is present less generally and does not really become widely used for narrative until the fifteenth century.
The comparison of narrative structure in prose and verse genres and texts is a further crucial aspect to be dealt with in these pages. In my opinion, in the formal analysis the development of prose has to be strictly