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1 - Late Medieval Precursors to the Novel: ‘aucune chose de nouvel’

from Part I - Beginnings: From the Late Medieval to Madame de Lafayette

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 February 2021

Adam Watt
Affiliation:
University of Exeter
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Summary

This chapter pursues a historical, methodological and theoretical agenda to interrogate the validity and value of identifying proto-novelistic writing in medieval French literature. Informed by Terence Cave’s reflections on ‘pre-liminaries’, it counters conventional positionings of the medieval period in histories of the novel in French, ensuring that it is not unduly omitted or disparaged whilst opposing unhelpfully evolutionary approaches. It first considers methodological challenges to adopting a fruitful retrospective gaze on medieval textuality, specifically problems of teleology and etymology. Focusing on the Old French roman and Middle French nouvelle as the genres most targeted as precursors in histories of the novel, it uncovers unexpected aspects of such points of comparison, especially in light of the modern novel’s and medieval romance’s shifting generic and formal histories. Selected elements of form (language, prose/verse, narrative structure, paratext) are examined to promote modern-medieval literary dialogue. A concluding case study of the fourteenth- and fifteenth-century dit proposes a fresh approach to identifying what, in chronologically earlier texts, is beneficial to our thinking about the novel today, in terms of definitional boundaries, the literary representation of individual experience, and reflexivity – the ways storytelling reflects on its own modes and capacities of how to tell a tale.

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Chapter
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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References

Further Reading

Adams, Tracy, ‘Christine de Pizan’, French Studies, 71.3 (2017), 388400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brown-Grant, Rosalind, French Romance of the Later Middle Ages: Gender, Morality, and Desire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)Google Scholar
Cave, Terence, ‘Locating the Early Modern’, in Theory and the Early Modern, ed. by Moriarty, Michael and O’Brien, John (Paragraph, 29 (2006)), 12–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Huot, Sylvia, From Song to Book: The Poetics of Writing in Old French Lyric and Lyrical Narrative Poetry (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987)Google Scholar
Jewers, Caroline A., Chivalric Fiction and the History of the Novel (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2000)Google Scholar
Swift, Helen J., ‘Telling Tales: What Is a Dit?’, in The First Manuscript of Guillaume de Machaut’s Collected Works (BnF, ms. fr. 1586), ed. by Leo, D. and Earp, L. (Turnhout: Brepols and Tours, in press)Google Scholar

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