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The Making of Romance: Three Studies.

There are three sections to this short book. The first and the longest is entitled |Philosophy and medicine in early courtly romance'. This is followed by two short studies, one on |The conversion of Perceval in the Conte du Graal' and the other on |Heloise and her achievement'. The erudition of the author is formidable, especially in relation to Latin sources, whether these be mediaeval or classical. She is tireless in her quest for influences on Chretien which might stem from Latin authors, and according to her Chretien was an expert not only on the better-known classical authors, such as Vergil, but also on Lucan, and drew heavily on the letters of Abelard and Heloise, which he must have had with him in Brittany in 1169 when he was composing his first surviving romance (pp. 99-100). Not only that, but he must have had them with him throughout his career as their influence is still discernible in the Conte du Graal. This is a very interesting argument, and Helen Laurie certainly cites a wealth of material in support of her arguments, but in the end the reader is left wondering if some of the examples cited really are all that close to Chretien. The parallel that she draws between Briseis and Heloise seems clear and well founded (pp. 96-7), but her attempt to show that Lancelot's hesitation for two steps in the Charrete is based on Heloise's interpretation of St Augustine does not carry the same conviction (pp. 114-5). |The French poet saw how Heloise had used her sources and in his romances develops much that is due to her initiative.' This seems a remarkably categorical statement for the evidence cited to support it. In her eagerness to illustrate the claim of Heloise to originality, the author denies the claims of Chretien. The most convincing and in some ways the most interesting part of the book is the end of the first essay, where the author demonstrates Chretien's knowledge of and interest in medicine. This is a really useful contribution to our understanding of Chretien, and rather less subjective than the other two chapters, where there is a tendency to present as proven ideas which are still only possible or probable. There is - a selective bibliography, and unfortunately the proof reading is not quite perfect. This is a stimulating addition to studies of mediaeval thought, but not all the author's arguments carry total conviction.
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Author:Noble, Peter S.
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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