International Arthurian Society: Books, Libraries, and Learned Societies

Last year, the Project consulted with several specialist academic groups, including Miltonists, Eighteenth-century studies scholars, and the British Branch of the International Arthurian Society (IASBB). A competition was launched with the Arthurians to write and submit a blog post on a topic related to reading influences or practices – including favoured locations and ways to read, academically; iconic texts; or the place that belonging to a learned society has in their research life. Full details of the competition can be found here. The entries were judged by Professor P.J.C. Field (Bangor) and Sue Hodges, Bangor University’s Director of Libraries and Archives. The winning entry was judged to be that written by Anastasija Ropa, who completed her BA and MA at the University of Latvia, and her PhD at Bangor University. An edited version of Anastaija’s winning entry was published on this blog last week. Today’s blog post publishes all of the runner-up entries. The Project would like to extend its congratulations to Anastasija and all the competition entrants for their stimulating and honest posts. The runners up were:


 

Lonely library or collaborative centre? – Zoe Enstone

Dr Zoe Enstone’s PhD explored the origin and development of Morgan le Fay in the Arthurian texts, and she is currently researching the use of the image of luxuria in the romances. Zoe is an Arts, Humanities and Academic Skills Tutor for the Lifelong Learning Centre at the University of Leeds.

My university recently opened a new library. It’s light and modern and well-suited to the way that my students work, with a focus on collaboration, group work and technology in the shared study spaces, group rooms and computer clusters (as well as plug sockets EVERYWHERE for all their gadgets). But as much as I appreciate the adaptability of the new space, this library is not where I work best. This isn’t because I’m a medievalist and I can’t understand all this ‘new-fangled’ gadgetry; we’re sometimes perceived as being unable to progress beyond the quill pen, but I actually think that we’re quite technologically attuned (as the wonderful array of manuscript digitisation projects and other resources will attest). Although I understand and appreciate all this new architecture and the range of technology, for my own research I prefer to work in the old library.

I think that part of my preference lies in the very heart of my ideas about academic research and teaching in the arts and humanities; that sense of looking back to the past to inform the work that we do in the present. I love the idea that generations of scholars have shared this space and these objects – the possibility that fifty years ago, someone might have been sitting in the same seat, reading the same book as me for the first time and thinking the same thing (or the complete opposite – what’s academia without a bit of debate?).

As wonderful as group study in the shiny new library might be, nothing seems quite as closely shared as the realisation that you have somehow connected with someone from the past’s ideas and that in the future you could be sharing those ideas with a student or colleague. For me, the first academic book that ‘spoke’ to me in this way was a particularly dusty copy of Sir Orfeo to which a number of previous students had ‘contributed’ their own reactions and interpretations through a range of scrawling comments in the margins – there was one particular comment that reflected my own reaction to an aspect of the text and I felt a wonderful sense of being part of an academic community that extended beyond my own immediate cohort. I have this same sense of recognition sometimes with manuscript marginalia – even if I don’t agree with their comments, a sense of having shared an experience of a text is fascinating and motivational in equal measures.

For as much as academia is portrayed as a solitary activity (no ‘welcome’ mats in our ivory towers, apparently), it is, in fact, an intensely collaborative affair – it is merely that our collaboration is often with those who are not immediately at hand or who are long dead. I don’t intend to suggest that academics are covert mediums, communicating through Ouija Boards, merely that the ideas that we read, discuss, debate, and share are often hundreds of years old and are preserved in these precious artefacts that we have hoarded into collections in libraries. The physical presence of these books reminds me of the long and often complicated route that these ideas have traversed to make it through to the present day.

And that sense of history and our involvement in it inspires me to study; to create new ideas to add to the collection or to inspire someone else to make their contribution through sharing these precious resources. I can only hope that, one day, the academics of the future have a workspace and resources that are equally inspiring- perhaps one day the new library will be imbued with the same sense of history and tradition that I find in my beloved older library. But for now, for me, my desk in the corner, surrounded by the ideas of others, is where I find my inspiration and collaboration.


 

The International Arthurian Society: an academic family – Natalie Goodison

In 2011 Natalie completed her masters in Medieval Studies at Edinburgh University with a thesis focusing on the French and English Breton Lay. In the autumn of 2011, she commenced her PhD at Durham University under the supervision of Corinne Saunders, on supernatural transformation in medieval romance.

That day I was just dropping off a form to the English department.

‘Ah Natalie, do you have a moment to complete your annual review?’, a commanding voice asked behind me.

I spun around to see Professor Elizabeth Archibald was speaking to me from inside her office. Review, what review? Oh, my annual review. Oh my days, what had I put on that form? Did I say anything horrible? I try never to say horrible things, only to think them, and certainly not to write them. No, I doubt I would have put anything awful on that form, but Lord Almighty, what did I say?

‘I think so.’

‘Are you busy just now? It will only take a moment.’

She ordered her thoughts so logically. How could I not have a moment?

‘Yes, of course. Although, I don’t remember what I put on my review.’

I shuffled into Elizabeth’s office, thinking how woefully unprepared I was. It was a meeting with Elizabeth Archibald! She’d only just come to Durham as new Principal of Cuths – a proficient academic, and roaring public speaker. She once gave a lecture on Secular verses Sacred Love and I still have the chart of when it’s okay to have sex in the Middle Ages affixed to my office desk. (The answer? Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday; and don’t enjoy it.) This was my first full year at Durham University, the beautiful Durham with its castle and cathedral and river and archives and colleges and evensong. I was meant to be completing research towards a PhD. I hadn’t the faintest idea of what I was actually doing.

We work through the questionnaire.

‘What training needs do you have? Some languages? French and German?’ Elizabeth jots those down.

‘And what is the outline so far of your thesis?’

Good Lord. I’d spent the last year compiling a database of supernatural moments in saints’ lives. I could tell you some pretty racy stories about baby Jesus in the ‘Life of St Anne’, but chapter outlines? I blustered through the general direction I thought I should take.

‘What is your goal in the next two months? How about you complete a chapter? Which one?’

I cannot for the life of me remember what I said, but I must have answered something because she wrote that down too and added, ‘Right. The next time I see you I hope it will be progressing well.’

I replied with a guttural, ‘I hope so.’

‘Now, Natalie, have you yet joined the IAS?’

The IAS? The IAS. The…

I must have demonstrated my bewilderment on my face—a fault of mine since childhood. By all means, invite me to play poker with you. You will surely win.

‘The International Arthurian Society, Natalie’, she supplied.

Riiiiiiight. They had their international conference in Bristol just a few summers ago. I was waste deep in a Master’s thesis at Edinburgh then and didn’t dare take any time for such frivolity. Least of all to say I knew no one. I still wasn’t sure what it actually was. Earlier that summer I had been to a medieval day at the Arthurian Centre in Cornwall and it was, by far, one of the oddest experiences of my life. Everyone was dressed up in pseudo-medieval clothing. We watched men joust, and before they had even struck blows, one knight’s lance had already broken. Drinks were sold out of cow horns that still retained bovine sediment, which swirled unwelcome amid one’s ale. Those I spoke with seemed deeply put out that modernity existed, and there was an air of cultish fanaticism that put my boyfriend completely off anything to do with the Middle Ages. For the next two years, all I heard was how weird medievalists were, and please, would I not turn out like them. So maybe the IAS was something like that?

‘You must join, immediately. It’s great fun. Here, I’ll propose you.’

Why didn’t this sound like fun? And what did she mean by ‘propose’? I had been dating the same guy for four years and he’d never uttered the word propose. Here Elizabeth brings it up in the first ten minutes of conversation. This was certainly sounding more like a cult.

‘And I’m sure that Corinne will be very happy to second you.’

There was a moment of silence while I contemplated how to phrase a response without sounding like a total idiot.

‘Yes, that would be nice. Thank you.’

‘Right. We meet in Bangor this year. I’ll expect to see you there.’

I barely registered her final words, and when I do recall them, it is of one as in a dream. I felt like I had just walked down a very blustery alley, and for some reason felt bruised. There were many things I should have taken away from that conversation, but the only thing I certainly did was Google, ‘IAS’. With some probing (having avoided International Accounting Standards), I found the website, a very swish logo of a knight on a horse, and downloaded the application form.

The requirements said that one must be proposed and seconded. I sat for a very long time on my bed, laptop on knees, whiskey in hand, debating whether or not I wanted to join. The truth was I was absolutely terrified. The only people I vaguely knew in this society were erudite academics. I did not know another soul. My supervisor’s other students were much older than I was, and who knew if they’d be going? For permission to join, they required that I bandy around academics’ names on a silly proposal form. What if I needed to use those names again for something truly important? What if I had wasted them now on something ridiculous? Who did I even need to send this to? The secretary, who, at the time, was Professor Jane Taylor. It seemed everyone in this society was a tenured high-and-mighty. I certainly would not fit in. To stall for time, I flipped through the website pages. There was a photo. A photo of Professor Peter Field. Now, that was very exciting! Peter Field! He used to teach at Bangor! Peter was my first link with my love of Arthurian things. He was a friend of Professor Edward Donald (Don) Kennedy at UNC who had written my references to get into Durham and Edinburgh. In my final semester as an undergraduate, I was determined to take a course on Arthurian Literature. The Dean even had to grant me special permission to extend my course load. Don Kennedy’s class enchanted me. I remember holding Peter’s edition of Malory’s final two books in my hands; I remember my excitement as I read of Guinevere and the poisoned apple; I remembered my unexpectedly emotional response. That was why I was in Durham continuing to read medieval things. I took a sip of whiskey, and pressed the ‘send’ button to Jane. Cult or not, I was in.

You can imagine my surprise to receive a letter from Jane saying that my application was impressive (what did that mean?); my relief, several months later, to see the Call For Papers go out (‘Oh, it’s just a conference. There will be no animal sacrifices.’); my trepidation as I booked and boarded my train for Wales; and my delight at finding a few friendly faces I knew in the crowd. As I hesitantly queued up for the registry, I overheard an expressive voice say, ‘Oh, Elizabeth, we don’t NEED name badges. They’re so embarrassing. Besides, we already all know each other.’ This lady had clearly lost the argument by the time I had reached the top of the queue, because she was now sporting a name badge that read, ‘Sam’ (Dr Samantha Rayner). She seemed like she knew what was going on. I didn’t want to disagree with ‘Sam’, but I was thankful for the name badges.

As I took my seat, I quietly observed others interacting as I pretended to peruse the conference pack. They certainly laughed a lot. And they seemed to like each other. I was jolted out of my observations on this breed of people, when my eye caught something in the packet: Elizabeth Archibald was the President of the IAS! That’s why my application was impressive. Why hadn’t she told me she was President? And why wasn’t it on their stupid website? My thoughts were cut short as the first session began.

The coffee breaks were socially uncomfortable as coffee breaks generally are: they involve people. But, strangely, that didn’t keep people from speaking to me, and, as we bumped our elbows over sugar, ask me what area of research I worked on. I remember talking to a very tall lady (Gillian Rogers), and when I told her I was currently working on aspects of the supernatural in some late Middle English Gawain romances, she spilled her tea all over saucer in excitement. Walking back from a manuscript exhibition, Jane Bliss (I knew this was she thanks to those wonderful name badges) asked me what I was working on, and when Prof. Jane Taylor (in the flesh!) overheard, said she’d send me a reference of two white bears in French literature. I thought it was more likely that Arthur would return before I’d receive that reference, but at her request, I gave her my email. You can imagine my shock, though perhaps seasoned members will be unsurprised, when I received an email a few weeks later with the subject line: ‘Two White Bears’.

Younger scholars attended too. There was a person named ‘Bex’ (Rebecca Lyons) who seemed to be everywhere and knew everyone. She had a contagious laugh, but I was shy of making her acquaintance. There was a PhD student at St Andrews who grew up next to my home state. Another PhD student was looking at faeries—an interest we both shared. Others, like me, had travelled from Durham and Sunderland. Some weren’t medievalists, but modern Arthurian scholars. I remember a paper on Michael Morpurgo’s misogyny that thoroughly frightened me from ever reading that children’s author. (Thanks, Adele.)

I was soon becoming overwhelmed. One lady was looking for book reviewers; another offered to advise PhD students on publication strategies. I met Prof. Peter Field, in a spotlight as his newly edited Malory volumes were finally complete. I asked him when the set were to be released, and looking back, I’m still not sure how to process his response. He said, ‘Far be it from me to compare myself with that certain condition of women, but I feel as though I’ve had twins, and the second one simply won’t come out!’ I was nearing the brink of needing a drink when Elizabeth gave a speech. In it, she said how excited she was for Peter’s new volume and confessed that even now, reading Malory made her cry. While I have a very good imagination, the thought of Elizabeth Archibald crying seemed impossible, and at that very moment, distressing. I felt like I was the one on the verge of tears. I couldn’t quite express it. Here I was, a lowly small PhD student, and I had suddenly encountered a new world. Renowned scholars rubbed elbows with lowly grad students and seemed genuinely interested in their research. The lowly grad students teased the renowned academics like they were old friends. It was a room full of book lovers; of, on probability, introverts; of people who grew excited and emotional over the same things I did. They were even just as socially awkward as I was! Yet how very welcoming they were. I suspected that even if they disagreed with someone’s scholarship they would phrase their contention genially. Perhaps the disagreement was where the fun lay. I realised, in fact, that this was a room full of people like me.

As this realisation ran through my head, we exited en masse to the bar. It was a brisk starless evening. I was oddly content. Though I couldn’t keep out the thought that maybe I had got it wrong. Maybe after all this was a cult.

I blinked. Without realizing it, I had reached the head of the bar queue and I was completely unprepared for my order. Elizabeth must have recognized that familiar, bewildered, expression on my face.

‘Right, Natalie. What will it be? G&T? Drinks on me.’

I gratefully accepted. As I sipped my drink, I considered that this definitely was not like the experience at the Arthurian Centre in Delabole. Well, if it wasn’t a cult, then it had to be a family. I was in.


 

The books I consider to be the most iconic scholarly Arthurian texts – Victoria Shirley
 

Victoria is an AHRC-funded PhD candidate working on the reception of Geoffrey of Monmouth and the construction of ‘British’ history in England, Scotland, and Wales (1270-1530). She is interested in Arthurian literature, medievalism, medieval historical writing, nationalism and nation studies, and origin myths.

Faral and Griscom: two iconic editions of the Historia regum Britanniae

In 1929, two editions of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae appeared in print. The first edition was by Edmond Faral, and it appeared in his three-volume work, La Légende arthurienne: études et documents. The second, by Acton Griscom, was entitled The Historia regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth, with contributions to the Study of its place in early British History. Both editions are iconic Arthurian texts as they were the first critical editions of the Historia regum Britanniae. This short post begins with a brief overview of these two editions, and then examines their reception among medieval scholars during the twentieth century.

The texts

Faral and Griscom adopted two very different editorial approaches. Faral aimed to produce a critical edition of the Historia that was based on ten manuscripts, with the most important manuscripts being Cambridge, Trinity College, MS. 0.2.21 (1125), Bern, Burgerbiliothek, MS. 568, Leiden, Bibliotheek der Rijkuniversiteit, MS. B.P.L.20, and Paris, Biliotheque nationale, MS. Lat. 6233. The text of the Historia was printed in the third volume of Faral’s study, alongside Nennius’s Historia Britonnum, the Annales Cambriae, and Geoffrey’s Vita Merlini. Faral’s study focused exclusively on these Latin texts: he intended to demonstrate how educated writers influenced the formation of Arthurian romance, with a particular focus on the literary traditions that informed the work of Chrétien de Troyes.

In comparison, Griscom’s text of the Historia was a diplomatic edition of a single manuscript. The main manuscript, Cambridge, University Library, MS. Ii.1.14, was collated with Bern, Burgerbibliothethek, MS. 465 and Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, MS. Porkington 17. These manuscripts provided the Latin text for the edition, which was printed alongside an English translation of Jesus College, Oxford, LXI, a fifteenth-century version of the Welsh Brut y Brenhinedd, by Robert Ellis Jones. Through this combination of Latin and Welsh materials, Griscom attempted to show the relationship between the Historia and the corpus of Welsh chronicles, and he argued that the manuscripts of the Welsh Brut provided the ‘best hope’ of discovering the main source the legendary ‘British’ book that Geoffrey used as his main source.[1] Griscom’s edition also included a list of one hundred and ninety manuscripts, from forty-nine different libraries and private collections, in eleven different countries.

Critical reception

Faral and Griscom’s editions fared very differently with reviewers. Albert C. Baugh praised Faral’s edition for its ‘eminently readable’ style, but he was particularly critical of the methodology of the edition, and he suggested that the source-by-source analysis could have benefitted from ‘greater economy’.[2] Furthermore, Baugh questioned Faral’s lack of engagement with current scholarship on the chronicle materials, and he also noted that Faral held a particular skepticism for Celticist scholarship.[3] The most scathing review of Faral’s edition came from Roger Sherman Loomis, who often criticized scholars who did not consider the impact of Celtic literature on the production of Arthurian texts.[4] Loomis accused Faral of deliberately obscuring the evidence for the Celtic origins of Arthurian romance, and he even suggested that Farl was ignorant of the entire tradition, stating that ‘what he does not know he cannot recognize’.[5] Loomis ends his review with a particularly cutting remark:

It is to be hoped for the sake of scholarship and his own high reputation that M. Faral will realize these grave limitations, and that, when he continues his work, it will reveal a knowledge of Celtic literature and an understanding of how it would be affected by a long period of oral transmission.[6]

Loomis’ review demonstrates the divisions between scholars about the origins of the Arthurian legend in the early twentieth century, and his comments about Faral’s edition clearly reveals some of the limitations of viewing Geoffrey’s Historia in a wholly Latinate context.

Griscom’s edition elicited very different responses from reviewers. E. G. Withycombe referred to the edition as a ‘monument of industry’,[7] and insisted that Griscom ‘deserves the gratitude of scholars for at last providing what appears to be a sound text’.[8] Similarly, Arthur C. L. Brown praised Griscom’s edition for its ‘faithful transcription’ of the Cambridge Manuscript.[9] Nevertheless, both reviewers did raise some concerns about the edition. Withycombe argued that Griscom was unsuccessful in demonstrating how the Welsh Bruts could be used as evidence to establish the ancient ‘British’ sources of the Historia. Meanwhile, Brown raised some doubt over Griscom’s choice of manuscripts: in order for the edition to have a greater impact on scholarship, he suggested that an ‘ancient and more inaccessible’[10] version of the Welsh Brut could have been used, especially as Jesus College, Oxford MS LXI, had already been translated. Brown, however, recommended Griscom’s edition over Faral’s, claiming that ‘Mr Griscom’s edition is the one which will be used by scholars who are investigating the origins of Arthurian romance’.[11] Furthermore, the critical value of Griscom’s edition was later affirmed by J. S. P. Tatlock, who used it in his magisterial Legendary History of Britain: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Brianniae and its Early Verncular Versions (1950).

Critical legacy

In recent years, the editions of the Historia by Faral and Griscom have been criticized for not meeting the needs of modern scholarship. Both editions have been superseded by Neil Wright and Julia Crick’s work on Historia regum Britanniae, and the five volume series published by D. S Brewer includes an edition of Bern, Burgerbibliothek, MS. 568; and edition of the First Variant; a catalogue of the manuscripts of the Historia; a study of the dissemination and reception of the Historia; and an edition and translation of the Gesta Regum Britanniae. In his introduction to the Bern MS, Wright offers an assessment of the two editions. Despite the inaccuracies of Faral’s text, Wright praises his editorial approach, especially his attempt to collate the manuscripts. In comparison, Griscom’s edition receives much more criticism as the Cambridge MS he based his edition was actually corrupt in many places. Wright ultimately concludes that Faral’s edition is ‘more helpful to the reader than Griscom’s eccentric work’.[12]

Nevertheless, Griscom’s edition has not been entirely discredited. Siân Echard writes that

while Faral produced a reading edition for those who wanted to get the gist of Geoffrey on their way to Chrétien and others, Griscom makes an attempt at a truly scholarly edition.[13]

The best features of Griscom’s edition are its editorial paratexts. His introduction shows a comprehensive understanding of the manuscripts of the Historia, and he was convinced that Geoffrey’s work appeared in ‘various editions’ or recensions. The framework for his edition was also encouraged further scholarship, and he remarks that ‘I shall be content if I have succeeded in throwing open doors through which others may advance and carry forward the work of disentangling the historical from the imaginative elements in Geoffrey’s work’.[14] The authority of Geoffrey’s ‘British’ book – which for Griscom was a tangible reality – has been the subject of much Galfridian scholarship.[15] Moreover, Griscom’s catalogue of manuscripts of the Historia and the Brut y Brenhinedd enabled further study of the Latin and Welsh manuscript traditions throughout the twentieth century. Griscom must surely be commended for initiating these critical advances.

Summary

Faral and Griscom’s editions of the Historia regum Britanniae are iconic scholarly texts for two very different reasons. Faral’s edition and provided a sound text of the Historia for a generation of scholars. Griscom’s edition, however, has a greater intellectual longevity. The issue that Griscom raised about the Welsh origins of the Historia has now become a question about Geoffrey’s political allegiances, and his ideological use of ‘British’ historical sources is still open for debate.

 

[1] Acton Griscom, ‘Introduction’, The Historia regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth with contributions to the study of its place in early British History (London and New York: Longman, 1929), pp. 3-216 (p. 7).

[2] Albert C. Baugh, review of Edmond Faral, La Légende arthurienne. Première Partie: Les Plus Anciens Texts, Modern Philology, 29.3 (Feb, 1932) : 357-365 (365).

[3] Baugh, ‘Edmond Faral’, 365.

[4] Other subjects of Loomis’ critical ridicule included J. D. Bruce, J. S. P Tatlock, and Gordon Hall Gerould.

[5] Roger Sherman Loomis, review of Edmond Faral, La Légende arthurienne. Première Partie: Les Plus Anciens Texts, Modern Language Notes, 46.3 (March, 1931): 175-179 (179).

[6] Loomis, ‘Edmond Faral’, 179.

[7] E. G. Withycombe, review of The Historia regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth by Acton Griscom. Longman, 1929, Antiquity 5.19 (Sept, 1931): 383-384 (383).

[8] Withycombe, ‘Acton Griscom’, 383.

[9] Arthur C. L. Brown, review of The Historia regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth by Acton Griscom. Longman, 1929, Modern Language Notes, 46.3 (March, 1931): 182-183.

[10] Brown, ‘Acton Griscom’, 183.

[11] Brown, ‘Acton Griscom’, 183.

[12] Neil Wright, ‘Introduction’, The Historia regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth, ed. Neil Wright (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1984), I, ix-lix (xlix).

[13] Siân Echard, ‘Latin Arthurian Literature, in A History of Arthurian Scholarship, ed. Norris J. Lacy (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2006), pp. 62-76 (p. 65).

[14] Griscom, ‘Introduction’, p. 9.

[15] See Echard, ‘Latin Arthurian Literature’, pp. 62-76.


Anastastija has won a week as Visiting Fellow at the new collection of Arthurian books housed in Bangor University Library, consisting of a week’s accommodation at the Management Centre in Bangor, and a £100 contribution from the IASBB towards travel costs to get there. As the winner, Anastasija has also agreed to write a report on your time in Bangor once the Visiting Fellowship is complete. The Project would like to extend its special thanks to the Management Centre in Bangor for their generous provision of a week’s accommodation, and to the IASBB for providing up to £100 in travel expenses for the winner. They would also like to thank Professor Raluca Radulescu, who has kindly agreed to meet with the Fellow to discuss research and use of the collection.

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