Le Morte d'Arthur of Sir Thomas Malory and Its Sources

By Vida D. Scudder | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
CAUSALITY IN ROMANCE

I

THE final quality of Malory's art lies deeper than cadence or dramatic narrative; it is his power of suggestion. Through the early part of the Morte a sense of hidden meaning is intermittent. It is conveyed largely through omens, prophecies, and hints of under-rhythm in the events. As the work goes on, the impression grows, till the whole story seems to move to some unheard music from secret places. To read it is like watching a complex dance, controlled by some orchestra which fails to meet the ear.

Such quickening suggestiveness is the hallmark of romance at its conclusion rather than its inception. There is hardly a trace of it in the straightforward movement of Arthurian chronicles. Nor have the French verse-romances much of this quality though they inaugurate the romantic tradition. Twelfth-century poets did not know that they were writing romance. The memories their work enshrines were unconscious, and what most fascinates us in them is often what to them was mere daily commonplace. Their poems flow as brightly as shallow waters over a clear bottom and while iridescent lights play through them, one is always conscious that the channel is not profound. It deepens as time goes on. In the long prose narratives from

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