Nikki's Reviews > Arthurian Romances

Arthurian Romances by Chrétien de Troyes
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Jul 15, 10

bookshelves: arthurian, medieval-literature, classics, myth-legend-saga-etc, for-class
Read in July, 2010

I can't believe it's taken me so long to get round to reading this. I've had it on my reading list for ages -- before I knew it'd be a set text -- and I'm glad I finally got round to it. It isn't a novel, as such, of course, but a set of somewhat connected stories, the last one of which is unfinished. I'm surprised by how great a part Gawain plays, even in the stories of the other knights, particularly in The Story of the Grail -- I don't think I've really seen him get so much attention in the grail story, except as a failure, in other texts.

In any case, I knew "Erec and Enide" from some other source, that preserved it almost entirely -- almost a translation, rather than a reinterpretation! No surprises in this one, for me. This edition has a good clear translation. Of course, by modern logic, Erec's treatment of Enide makes no sense at all and is horribly cruel -- I think the more modern version I read had him suspecting her of infidelity, and emphasising it as the reason for his treatment of her -- but we're not talking modern logic!

I hadn't read "Cligés" anywhere, though, although it was familiar from the similarities it had with "Tristan and Isolde". The behaviour of Fenice seems very much like a criticism of faithless Isolde; it'd have been interesting to read Chrétien's version of "Tristan and Isolde", if it survived.

"The Knight of the Cart" has survived quite well in later interpretations, although it's been pruned and added to. It was interesting to read this one, although funny that though Lancelot is praised here, he's not really present in the other texts. He isn't the model of excellence that Malory makes him: Gawain seems to have that role.

"The Knight with the Lion" is interesting. I think bits of it survive -- I knew the story about the spring -- but a lot of his wandering, and how he met the lion, was unfamiliar to me.

"The Story of the Grail" follows the Welsh knight, Perceval. I can't say I really enjoyed that much, with the contempt of the characters for the Welsh, and the way Perceval was pretty much characterised as a simpleton. But a large part of the story follows Gawain, which I enjoyed a lot, and most of his adventures in this story were new to me.

It's kinda fun reading this and reading about how silly the whole idea of chivalry -- that never really existed -- was. Idealisation or not, I do love Arthuriana for its ridiculous excesses: every maiden is the most beautiful in the world, more beautiful than Helen of Troy, and every knight is the best and the most courtly in the land... Medieval literature can get away with it; I'm afraid modern lit can't.
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