How white was the valley?

A reference of course to the origins of Arundel as a place, and it looms in my thoughts as massively as the chunk of rock on which the castle stands. Research led me in the direction of the romance Of Arthour and Of Merlin, which, taken with Tristran/Tristan and some reading of the VCH: Sussex entry really got me thinking along the lines of ‘cultural geography’. I now think this is too much of an umbrella term. Having come to the point of (almost) accepting Judith Weiss’s conclusions regarding Boeve and the d’Albini family, I still find the cluster of names in Boeve to be in need of more detailed work. There is certainly more historicising to do before we understand why the names, and the allusions they evoke, appear in this poem. The more I read the more I find unanswered questions, such as whether the ‘man  tried by fate’ motif evokes St Eustace only to position this evocation against the biography of Eustace son of King Stephen? He seems to have been a ‘bad thing’ even if he was never a king.

In view of the fact that I am really intent on working out the restructuring Bevis now this often seems like a digression, but I remind myself that it will eventually contribute to the section/chapter on Genre, even if it is only a few sentences.

And this is something else that keeps rattling in my head – there is so little contextualising of Bevis in relation to Boeve, as well as so little historical contextualising of the A/N poem. Hunting for articles is an ongoing task, but at present the most exciting reading is D.H. Green’s book on The Beginnings of Romance.

I’m also considering posting here some of the work I did last year on the naming of Boeve and echoes of his name in Southampton’s records, and elsewhere. There is definitely a connection, but it is more complex that I originally thought and although I didn’t persuade the experts, it may interest other researchers. It’s a task for another day, though.

It was also good to discover recently a new thesis in preparation on Motherhood in Romance.


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The elephant in the room is a tiger by the tail!

The research into the names in Boeve is taking on massive proportions and I shall have to just write out what I have and try to prune it all into shape. I began by thinking Notes and Queries, now I’m wondering how big this topic really is, and how much historical and political contextualisation will it demand.

I have been reading J-P Martin’s most interesting introduction to his parallel-text edition of Boeve but alongside that I felt I needed to go back to Stimming and see what he had to say. The route I’m following now will certainly have some relevance to the other work on Bevis, which needs my attention, but the matter of names in Boeve is is already making me reconsider the whole historical trajectory of the romance. I will have to revisit Tristan, and Horn Child as soon as time permits. Beginning to feel the old excitement again – I didn’t expect that!

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Thinking Aloud

I think I am (almost) ready to accept the idea that Boeve existed in an early form, onto which was grafted the later development with all the controversial material, although this still doesn’t answer all my questions, and we don’t know what form the ‘original’ took. I think I’m happy with the idea that during the reign of Richard I someone saw fit to create the ‘Continuation’, even though this negates my argument in favour of Bovo of St Laurence, but in any case there is a better candidate for the naming. What I cannot accept is the entire emphasis being placed on William d’Albini III, simply on the grounds of his payment to Richard, persuasive though this is. Something is still missing, and my objections are only partly based on Richard’s visits to Southampton. I need to do more work on this because I think the relevant contexts are being read ‘arsiversy’, or at least are not being read fully enough. It was helpful writing my highly speculative essay on the possibility of an adventus ceremony embedded in Boeve, because I realised I needed to think more about the later dating, but Judith Weiss’s proposal, supported by Jean-Pierre Martin, concerning the dates, really fits rather well with what I argued concerning the adventus, which seems to have quietly (perhaps kindly) slipped off the radar. I may post it on Academia at some point to see what responses it gets.

If I can work out the problem of the relationship between places and dates it would give additional background to the work I’m doing on Bevis, but it’s not essential and is a different kettle of stockfish. The Celtic chapter needs substantial work because the Celtic influence could have come from the West, or east via Brittany. However, the lack of faery elements in Bevis helps concentate the focus on the occult as it does appear. I have SO much more reading to do!

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Inching Forward

The problem of Boeve, which continues to nag away in moments when Bevis is not commanding my attention, gets both better and worse! Jean-Pierre Martin’s valuable contribution to studies of the Anglo-Norman text is taking some time to digest, and is very helpful in almost all respects – especially as it continues to repeat the same purposeful ignoring of the ‘elephant in the room’ that all the critics I’ve looked at so far have steadfastly refused to recognise. This is driving me nuts! But on the other hand, it is strengthening my resolve to tackle this matter head on. Further thoughts to follow, especially if you haven’t worked out what the elephant is… Watch this space.

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Having spent some time revising the entry on Sir Bevis that I contributed to the online Literary Encyclopaedia, and then updating my own most recent CV, I realised that I never added the Lit Enc. to updated version of my CV. It’s not a big thing to do, just irritating to have forgotten it. The update consists of the most recent version of Boeve de Haumtone which is a translation from Anglo-Norman into French. Very impressive and significant, and though perhaps it is not strictly essential in terms of Bevis studies, it may help students and researchers.

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The Work Continues

The last few weeks have been hard work but it feels as though I’m making progess on a different scale with all my Bevis/Boeve research. Some of the stimulating articles I’ve been reading have confirmed my opinion that there is still much to do, not least to interrogate the fable of the Arundel patronage.

A completely separate line of enquiry would be the local traditions associated with Bevis, some of which will probably never be traced to their sources, but undoubtedly there was a moment when the literary source gave rise to a local desire to claim the hero and to create a ‘backstory’ suited to the interests of the era and what was already known of Southampton’s, or indeed Arundel’s, history.

Perhaps the most puzzling tradition is how the concept of a horse leaping to its death from Arundel Tower came into being, when in the earliest texts it is Bevis’s mother who takes that leap. Tempting as it is to propose the identification of horse and mother, in some kind of Celtic binary akin to the ancient Welsh story of Rhiannon, this seems at stretch the imagination a little too far.

These matters are at present, however, out of my range as I concentrate on the literary problems, although another potential researcher may take them up. As for me, the next stops on my research journey will be the city archives and the Hartley Library. Really looking forward to that!

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Back on track

It’s been the best part of 6 weeks since I was last able to think seriously about writing. I hadn’t realised how intensely tired I was until the lull after the Christmas festivities. Happily, now that has passed, thanks in part to good friends. Quite inadvertently, the spur to write has returned and my work on Bevis is underway again. This does not mean that I have turned my back on Boeve. Far from it. Thanks to the feedback from the Medium Aevum reader, and the rather encouraging comments from the editor, I am eager to revise the paper. The argument really does work, but needs a stronger historical basis in one place, and a more assertive statement about the commonsense approach of looking to Southampton for a patron. However, I almost argued myself out of the relevance of my original theory, based on dating, but have realised that a sequential dating may be possible, and that this would justify the later dating that has been proposed.

Before I can work on the revision, however, I have some translation to do, so progress on Boeve will be slow, and temporarily delayed while I work on another approach to Bevis.

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