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Chapter 1: Romances of Land and Lineage

Crane, Susan

The romances of English heroes differ thematically from the medieval fictions most familiar to twentieth-century readers. The Old French romances of love and adventure emphasize love's power to transform heroic identity, and trace love's role in precipitating crises between private identity and public expectations. The romances of English heroes instead present external, political crises that are met by a fully worthy and capable hero who senses no problematic conflict between his own desires and those of his society. In this respect they may seem close to epic, but none of their heroes is entirely a representative of his community, bent on winning its survival even at the expense of his own life. The English hero is self-interested; his goals are personal, typically involving his protection of feudal rights a n d the honor of his family. This pattern, in turn, resembles that of the Old French gestes des révoltés, whose rebel barons defy their lords in defense of private rights. But in the insular works, adherence to legality and tradition always brings success and stasis, while the gestes des révoltés move inexorably toward chaos, misfortune, and disillusion — "a torn , ambiguous world, where the norms of feudal society are no longer conducive to existence." In contrast to the gestes des révoltés, the romances of English heroes have faith in traditional systems and confidence that justice will prevail.

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Also Published In

Title
Insular Romance: Politics, Faith, and Culture in Anglo-Norman and Middle English Literature
Publisher
University of California Press

More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Published Here
December 9, 2009