The Romance of the Middle Ages
Eds. Nicholas Perkins and Alison Wiggins
Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, 2012, 176 pages, 70 color plates
Price: Paper $35.00
From chivalrous knights to damsels in distress, fire-breathing dragons, and high-walled towers, the characteristics and expectations we ascribe to stories of love and romance have their origins in some of the most beautiful and intriguing books of the Middle Ages. Encompassing Arthurian legends, Alexander the Great’s global conquests, sudden reversals of fortune, revenge, or enchantment, images and tales of medieval romance still resonate today. This beautifully illustrated history of romance legends explores the conjunctions of chivalric violence, love, sex, and piety that marked these striking and resonant stories.
Through a discussion of surviving manuscripts, printed books, and visual art, The Romance of the Middle Ages examines the development of romance as a literary genre, its place in medieval culture, and the scribes and readers who copied, owned, and commented on romance books—from magnificent illuminated manuscripts to personal notebooks. It describes the dangerous pull of desire in works by Dante, Chaucer, Malory, and many others, and traces the influence of these stories through their rewriting in Shakespeare, Spenser, Walter Scott, and Mark Twain, along with the medievalist visions of Morris, Rossetti, and Burne-Jones. The Romance of the Middle Ages then brings the story up to date by showing how later writers and artists have responded to medieval romance, including Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and J. K. Rowling, and the very different knightly casts of Monty Python and Star Wars.
The Romance of the Middle Ages is an engaging analysis of stories that still have the power to capture our imaginations long after ‘happily ever after’.
Derek Pearsall, University of York
“An altogether delightful book. The authors have a gift for the telling detail, and for smuggling in the unexpected. It is hard to imagine a book that does its job, of introducing medieval romance and its afterlife to the general reader, more perfectly.”
James Simpson, Harvard University
"Evangelicals and literary critics have looked sternly askance at medieval romance for about six hundred years. Entirely undaunted, medieval romances pass insouciantly across borders of time, geography, social class, and gender with their passports of pleasure. Nicholas Perkins and Alison Wiggins here allow us to join those journeys of romance. Their lightly worn, precise scholarship takes us inside the books of these marvelous stories. This is a gorgeous, utterly delightful book."
Helen Cooper, Cambridge University
"This book is at once an informative and lively introduction to all aspects of romance—medieval and modern, its writers and readers, in manuscript and print—and a treasure trove of some of the Bodleian's visually most remarkable holdings."—Helen Cooper, Cambridge University
Table of contents:
Note on translations and glosses
1. Romance and the Medieval World
2. Empires of Romance
3. Scribes and Settings
4. Dangerous Encounters
5. Romance in the Age of Print
6. Romance in the Modern World