French Studies, Vol. LXXII, No. 3, 425–486 REVIEWS The Legend of Charlemagne in Medieval England: The Matter of France in Middle English and Anglo-Norman Literature. Edited by PHILLIPA HARDMAN and MARIANNE AILES. (Bristol Studies in Medieval Cultures.) Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2017. 489 pp., ill. This ﬁne co-authored monograph should be read in context as part of a series edited by Marianne Ailes and Philip Bennett on ‘Charlemagne: A European Icon’, complementing the recent themed volumes on Latin and in the Iberian peninsula. The co-authors have succeeded in speaking with a single voice. They create a clear and authoritative frame for a very dense corpus of texts and compilations in Anglo-Norman French and Middle English (the Appendix of texts is a handy addition). Four key ﬁndings are established in the ﬁrst chapter and illustrated throughout, with longer and more detailed studies of translations of speciﬁc scenes, poetic metre, and heraldry in illustrations. The ﬁrst conclusion is that the Middle English texts exacerbated an already selective reception in Anglo-Norman French of the chanson de geste tradition of the so-called ‘Cycle du Roi’, in other words the poems that recount events of Charlemagne’s reign. Rather than the dozens of epic poems written down on the Continent, we ﬁnd a small cluster, comprising the core story of Roland’s death at Roncevaux, the less popular tale of Olivier’s combat with the Saracen giant Fierabras, and an analogous tale of another converted Saracen, Otinel or Otuel. This cluster led to ﬁfteenth-century Middle English variants, the Sowdone of Babylone, and yet another combat with a Saracen giant, Roland and Vernagu. The second ﬁnding is that the focus of the poems shifts from local concerns such as identifying French reliquary shrines, to a broad allegory of Christendom, symbolized by Charlemagne’s empire, and a Saracen federation that is loosely deﬁned as the rest of the known world and more speciﬁcally identiﬁable as Islam. As a result, the insular tradition rehashes a stereotype of Christian and Muslim champions. The designation of these as a concept of ‘Europe’ and ‘the Saracen “Other”’ suffers from being spread across the book in aperc¸us as well as in Chapter 1 and the Conclusion, rather than put to detailed scrutiny in a single focused section. The third ﬁnding nuances this second conclusion, inasmuch as, in the ﬁfteenth-century texts, religious polemic acquires anti-heretical traits that chime with the domestic concerns of English rulers and churchmen. The logical conclusion, that cliche´d Saracen giants are a means of representing dissent from within, is left for others to explore. The fourth ﬁnding challenges a once-dominant view of English literature emerging in conﬂict with French culture impelled by the Hundred Years’ War. Rather, Marianne Ailes and Philippa Hardman show that these texts are familiar with French chansons de geste, claim ‘Frenchness’ for themselves, and engage in cultural and political appropriation. Less-foregrounded discussions are also worth mentioning, such as the failure to translate the rebel baron poem of Aspremont, despite its popularity. Is it a reﬂection of some form of censorship, or have key manuscript witnesses been lost? Overall, this book offers many new insights into the political and cultural uses of transla- tion and adaptation, as well as a fresh perspective on the development of Middle English literature through dialogue with literature in French. CATHERINE LEGLU doi:10.1093/fs/kny145 UNIVERSITY OF READING # The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for French Studies. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/fs/article-abstract/72/3/425/5040541 by Ed 'DeepDyve' Gillespie user on 31 July 2018
French Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jul 1, 2018
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