It was a relief to hit my submission deadline for the third of the book chapters, and after a short pause for breath, I completed the revision of ‘The Name of the Hero’ and submitted it again to N&Q. A decision could be a long time away, and positive or not, at least the piece was properly up to date as far as research was concerned – when I submitted it.
With that done, and after another short pause, I have begun to consider the next part of the research which will be on the connection between Boeve and the putative geography. This will take some work because I believe it involves Harold Godwinson and Thomas Becket. It will be more than usually tricky to do this research because current circumstances will mean that I’ll have to rely for now on what I can get access to online. It will be a while before poking about in the dark recesses of Special Collections in the Hartley Library becomes possible again, but that’s no reason why I shouldn’t continue to plot out the main shape of the paper. It’s a shame I missed the deadline for submitting proposals to the CMRC Romances strands at the Leeds IMC next year, but I have a feeling now that this new research paper will be too big for the 20 minute slot of any conference session. But we shall see.
My attention to Bevis seems to have wandered somewhat, but understanding the background may help explain more about the Middle English story and its popularity.
The whole of August, fair weather an foul, has been taken up with work on ‘Perilous Female Spaces’ in Bevis, the third and last of the chapters promised for The Rise and Rise of Heroic Romance. I have always enjoyed this topic, ever since I wrote the original conference paper on it for the Castles conference run jointly by the University of Southampton and the Art Gallery. It has only been since staring the new research for the topic that I have discovered how much more the text had to offer, and some of it has been a surprise. Female space has always been dangerous to the men in the text, but a more detailed reading shows up the extent to which it is all located in the part of the text that derives from the Anglo-Norman Boeve and there it all lies in the first part. The spaces in the ‘Continuation’, i.e. after the unfulfilled castle promise are simple and largely unthreatening echoes of earlier motifs, replete with ideological enculturation. This is not part of the current work, being too extended for the word count, but it bears further scrutiny.
Once this chapter is complete and submitted I hope to have a little time reconsider The Name of the Hero, the piece I withdrew from N&Q after reading Damen Carraz’s book. It will require a good deal of quiet thinking and may end up too long for N&Q, but will hopefully contribute to the debate about the poem.
Having withdrawn the piece on Boeve’s name from N&Q on account of the new reading I had done in the book that came out as I submitted the piece, I still have contributed nothing yet to scholarship on the romance, but I have been writing like a thing demented. Apart from the major consideration of the continually liminal state of the romance up to the point at which it got lost like a river in a desert when popular versions diluted it, it has been much in my mind while writing up my latest piece of research. Although it was unknown (as far as we know) to Tolkien, nevertheless, LotR and Bevis have so much in common that the original romance makes a useful comparator when looking at Tolkien’s work.
Bevis will come more into focus in its own right as I pick up the next piece of work on ‘Perilous Spaces in Medieval Romances’. This will revisit and extend some earlier work on the way space controlled by females becomes a serious danger to the men who enter into it.
Hopefully, after this I’ll be able to revisit the Name of the Hero again.
Almost all the research I have planned is associated with Bevis in some way, until at least Spring next year. The monograph I had hoped to work on will not to happen, but Bevis remains part of my work for the foreseeable future.
The developments in my reading round the historical and political contexts relevant to the story of Boeve in the twelfth century have made me realise that I need to get on and withdraw the item I submitted to N&Q earlier this year. The most important book for this was only published around the time I submitted the piece, and it should be referenced.
My work on the crucial sixteenth-century reception of the story in its calqued form of Sir Bevis of Hampton also means that I need to revise my ideas about its relationship to the real Bovo of St Laurence. There is likely to be a more nuanced relationship based on the relevance of the name of St Beuve/Bovo in twelfth-century (southern) England. Even that needs caution! I am working on why versions of the name appear in a high-status antiquarian text as ‘historical’ evidence of a legend or story relating the story of an Insular hero and blaming monkish intervention for warping their reality.
Much food for thought at present.
The work on the new project is really painful now. I know better what I have to say about the liminal state of the story and its reflections of history and politics. It’s so complex that teasing out the different layers is grindingly hard work, proceeding slowly, and falling apart on a regular basis. Seeing the liminality is the only way to make sense of a story whose elements don’t make sense. How does it slide from something that looks like a fabliau into a crusading theme all enveloped in domestic injustice? But it does, and I am determined to treat it as a literary text and not fragment it to provide a series of examples to set alongside a lot of other examples. The problem may be that it needs a larger space. Meanwhile, I have great difficulty maintaining the long view which is needed to see the transitions from one exegetical dimension to another. But there are a few things I am convinced about now. Initially, it is trying to make the point that the warrior estate should be crusading against the infidel and not fighting one another, including princes of the Church. And therein lies a whole other essay, on the poem’s engagement with the Becket controversy. But that is not something I want to think about until Liminality is finished.
Much reading as well as (seemingly) endless writing has brought me closer to saying something about Bevis that feels worth saying. The coincidence that the original Boeve poem was written around the time when Bovo of St Laurence was living in Southampton still eludes a definitive treatment, but clearly St Bovo of Fraxinet relates to both. Furthermore, the apparent crossover of material between the poem and the Vita of Thomas Becket confirms the use of St Bovo’s story as a source for Boeve. The propaganda encoded by reference to the crusader saint Bovo refers to Cluniac constructions of the saint as the ideal of the pious lay warrior, defender of the Christian faith. It is, then no accident that his example, inflected with the ill-treatment of abbot Maiolus by the Andalusi pirates, should be flagged up in fashionable literary form in the aftermath of Henry II’s conflict with Becket when the rights of the Church were at stake. The implicit message seems to be that lay warriors should defend Christianity against its infidel enemies, and not persecute its ministers like Saracens.
Yesterday 22nd May, was St Bovo’s Day. Maybe next year research conditions will be easier, and I will be able to write up the rest of the issues that the current work is throwing up. There is certainly more to be said about the relationship between Boeve, St Bovo, and Becket.
The book by Damien Carraz that looks unpromising from its title, which flags it up as concerned with the Templars in high medieval southern France, has actually proved a vital help in understanding the power, purpose, and influence of early Cluniac hagiography, not least because it picks up the role of troubadours. It has helped me to establish some of this links I knew had to be relevant to my research but was struggling to find. Together with J-P Poly’s earlier work on feudal Provence, it has given me so much to work with that I’m going to have to cut severely to meet the publisher’s word limits. This is not necessarily a bad thing!
The latest reading has helped to focus the timeline of my chapter and has expanded the sense of liminality which is now its topic, although it still circulates to some extent around the idea of the transition of the Bevis story from exemplum to popular legend.
It is also good to see that the call for chapters is receiving responses. I’m really hoping that the breadth of the topic will encourage diversity, not just the English and French traditions of medieval romance. Not that these have been exhausted, by no means! But I would so like to see someone write on the Arabic Sirat, or explore African literature from this perspective. But for now Boeve/Bevis is occupying all my time, and from different angles too.
The work I am doing on Boeve keeps coming back to the same questions, one of which is how does Maiolus of Cluny fit into the wider picture of transmission? I am sure he does, and I can see how the two-part structure of Boeve mirrors the two events that lead to the defeat of the Andalusi pirates in Provence, one of which involves Maiolus.
I can see how Cluny relates to distantly to Henry II because it was founded by his ancestor William I of Aquitaine (the Pious), but it is really SO distant, and even Maiolus pre-dates Henry by more than 200 years.
There is a potential line of transmission through Benedictine foundations. St Bertin may be one, it is certainly important in its own time, and had its own Abbot Bovo, although he was a ‘bad thing’. Malmesbury may be another. It’s all very fascinating, but so slow to unravel, and as fast as I think I’ve found a definite thread it ravels itself up into even more of a Gordian knot.
Magnyfycence is still open encouragingly on my desk, but I really need to come at this from a different direction, preferably with a great big sword!
The ecclesiastical and theological significance of 10.4.20, like the weather, is somewhat at odds with the time we are enduring as Covid 19 reaches its terrible peak. The beautiful sunny warm spring weather is mocking so many families who cannot go out to enjoy it, and there is general sympathy for all those who are restricted, especially those living in flats. Good Friday is technically the moment of horror in the Christian calendar that precedes the joy of the Resurrection, a trial to be endured before the eschatological change signalled by Easter Day. For many people there will be no joy.
So it seems also rather inappropriate to find myself feeling rather more joyful about my research now than I was when I first started thinking about it this morning. Thanks to the wisdom, scholarship and generosity of friends and colleagues, my Boeve research may have taken a step in the right direction towards a degree of subtlety in its argument that feels more convincing. This is, of course, the moment at which it will begin to fall apart again, but that’s such a familiar feeling it’s just a matter of picking up the pieces!
Thanks to my daughter too for a stimulating chat about Robin Hood and Boeve/Bevis, I think I have something to say about that which will come later in the current chapter. Meanwhile, a bit more reading around the taini regis is in order, thanks to Ann Williams.
The current outbreak of Covid 19 is making it hard to find time for writing but this morning I have been able to do some work on my chapter for The Rise and Rise of Romance book – a nice reminder in its medieval aspect that there have been plagues before, some much worse, and the world has recovered. In response to the Black Death Boccaccio wrote, and Chaucer followed him, particularly recalling attitudes such as the riotours’ who waylaid the old man. A whole post-plague culture arose, and maybe it will happen now, but storytelling will continue, and so will attempts to understand our ancestors’ views and interpretations of the world around them in the narratives they left.
So to Boeve, something approaching a line of argument is slowly beginning to resolve itself, an almost straight line from my introductory paragraph through to the revelation that Boeve was a real person, that in his Vita Pentecost was significant, as was St Laurence, and Cordova/Cordoba also has tangential significance. All these additonal elements seem to pop up in unexepected ways, without supporting contexts, until you see where they come from! Cordova is particularly allusive and elusive, but perfectly relevant. The St Eustace legend fits into this story, as it’s influence has already been flagged up in the Boeve poem.
In addition today, Ann Williams’ work on the taini regis has added a little to the poem’s treatment of its recent history. The big challenge remains which way to read the Angevin lineage, and the over-writing of Wessex. There’s a lot of research still to do on that and being unable to get to the university isn’t helping, but at least it feels like a bit of progress today.