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Old French Narrative Cycles


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This is a study of four colossal medieval works - the Cycle de Guillaume d'Orange, the Vulgate Cycle, the Prose Tristan and the Roman de Renart - which are normally considered separately. By placing them side-by-side for analysis, Luke Sunderland is able to argue for an aesthetic of cyclicity that cuts across genre. He combines detailed readings of the narrative infrastructure of each cycle with attention to the shifts and transformations that come with successive acts of rewriting.
Old French Narrative Cycles focuses in particular on revisions and controversies around heroic figures, arguing that competition between alternative heroes within these texts makes them a discourse on heroism. Using a theoretical framework deriving from Lacanian psychoanalysis, the study reveals anxieties surrounding the hero's relationship to the "good": the hero oscillates between support for moral ideals and subversive assertions of freedom that can lead to evil and death. Ultimately, it is contended that the instability of the hero as conduit for morality produces textual confusion and generates the myriad differing versions of these vast and perplexing works.

LUKE SUNDERLAND is Lecturer in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Durham.


Arguing for telling linkages between medieval text and modern theory, Sunderland's work affirms that in cycles, as in the investigation of cyclic texts by means of recent critical theory, what came before can be understood by means of what has developed later, which in turn may find an apt expression of itself in what came before. ARTHURIANA

[This] insightful analysis ofthe narrative and formal issues at stake ... opens new routes in the exploration and understanding of the complex nature of medieval textuality. MODERN LANGUAGE REVIEW

[An] insightful analysis of the narrative and formal issues at stake in these four Old French cycles [...] opens new routes in the exploration and understanding of the complex nature of medieval textuality. MODERN LANGUAGE REVIEW

A useful contribution to the current scholarship on medieval books and textual transmission. SPECULUM


First Published: 15 Apr 2010
13 Digit ISBN: 9781843842200
2 line drawing illustrations
Pages: 220
Size: 23.4 x 15.6
Binding: Hardback
Imprint: D.S.Brewer
BIC Class: DSB

Details updated on 05 Oct 2015


  • 1  Introduction
  • 2  Duty to the Geste: The Cycle de Guillaume d'Orange
  • 3  Metaphor, Metonymy and Morality: The Vulgate Cycle
  • 4  Responsibility to Reputation: The Prose Tristan
  • 5  Ethical Evil: The Roman de Renart
  • 6  Conclusion