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Thomas: Le Roman de Tristan.

By Felix Lecoy, Classiques francais du moyen age, 113 (Paris: Champion, 1991). 176 pp. ISBN 2-85203-216-3. 11.49 [pounds].

Strange though it may seem in the case of a text as familiar as this, Felix Lecoy's edition is arguably the first to be established on sound critical principles. Bedier, for his 1902-5 edition, elected to restore in a frequently cavalier fashion the syllable-count of the many faulty lines, whilst Wind, in her 1950 and 1960 editions, produced a text which is sometimes quite incomprehensible because of her desire to respect, virtually come-what-may, the evidence in the surviving manuscripts. More recent editors, such as Payen, Mettmann or Walter, have essentially chosen to follow either Bedier or Wind, while inserting the occasional correction of their own. There seems no reason to doubt that Thomas himself sought to write regular octosyllabic fines, for he rhymes efficiently enough and his general grasp of style and language is undeniable. But Lecoy has prudently chosen not to indulge in wholesale introduction of regular octosyllables, for this would have meant in many instances the insertion of an arbitrarily chosen correction. Moreover, a similar concern has led him to maintain the orthography of the manuscripts. What he has tried to do is to draw upon all the available evidence (and it is worth noting that the Turin fragments, hitherto known only through Novati's 1887 transcription, have now been located), to select a seemingly correct version and to introduce cautiously a number of other emendations. Lecoy admits that he has adopted a compromise approach, but an edition of Thomas has finally been produced which can be read with a degree of confidence. Lines which chimed awkwardly in the ear in Wind's editions especially now ring true. Obviously, with such an unsatisfactory set of manuscript fragments, this does not mean that one lends immediate approval to all of Lecoy's suggestions. (The critical material also contains the occasional misprint and minor factual error) Having wrestled with the text in Wind's editions and reached some kind of understanding of a difficult passage, one is sometimes reluctant to jettison hard-won knowledge. For example, Lecoy has serious reservations concerning lines 199-200, part of the marriage sequence in the first Sneyd fragment, and is tempted to adopt a correction on the model of that proposed by Bedier (see p. 137); and yet the apparent contradiction the lines introduce seems so in tune with Tristan's confused mental state at this point that they may well be authentic. However, on many occasions one is delighted to receive confirmation that the Wind readings did not make sense: at line 74, for example, el must be correct, as must vent les gualos, rather than les vent gualos, at line 2185. Problems naturally remain: lines 967-8, and particularly soir in line 968, resist interpretation, and one must also have every sympathy with Lecoy's comment that the |fresaie' passage at the end of the marriage sequence is one |que l'on n'a pas reussi jusqu'ici a tirer parfaitement au clair' (p. 140). It is nonetheless true that we now have a much more reliable text on which to base our conjectures.
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Author:Bromiley, G.N.
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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