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Reality Fictions

Reality Fictions

Romance, History, and Governmental Authority, 1025–1180

Robert M. Stein

“The sense of being guided by a trustworthy intelligence, deeply grounded in knowledge based on thorough study of the relevant texts, in command of precise and accurate language, is the consistent experience of reading Reality Fictions. This is a genuinely original and important book.” —Nancy Partner, McGill University

“Richly grounded in literary theory, Stein is never its captive; he knows when and how to allow the written text its rejoinder as theory’s necessary corrective. Severe with unconsidered teleologies, always deeply contexted, this fine book abounds in conceptual payoffs. Among my revisionary favorites: his aptly titled (and wittily inverted) concluding chapter, ‘From Romance to Epic.’” —Paul Strohm, Anna S. Garbedian Professor of Humanities, Columbia University

It has long been a commonplace of literary history that in the twelfth century, first in the French-speaking territories controlled by the Anglo-Norman and Capetian ruling families, and especially within the milieu of the English royal court, antique and chivalric romances appear simultaneously with a new kind of historical chronicle driven by contemporary affairs. In short order, historiography and romance, whether written in Latin or in the vernaculars, became culturally dominant kinds of narrative expression throughout the rest of Europe.

Why did this happen? Why did these two new kinds of writing appear simultaneously and spread so rapidly within the same cultural milieu? In Reality Fictions, Robert M. Stein argues that the emergence of historiography and romance was linked to large-scale transformations in the structure of power attendant on Capetian and Anglo-Norman state-making. He maintains that an understanding of the changes in the twelfth-century literary constellation requires us to consider the structure of literary production as a whole and in its relation to the world from which it emerges and to which it responds. Stein argues that romance and history writing grew out of the same cultural need and were intended to perform the same cultural tasks, thus determining their simultaneous appearance, rapid development, and formal affinities.

In the rearrangements of power that were part of the state-making designs of Capetian and Anglo-Norman ruling families, new imaginative and conceptual entities became matters demanding serious representation, often in new discursive configurations, and often for the first time—the boundaries between self and other, the experience of eros, the differentiation of public from private life all took on new contours. A brilliant study of literary innovation, Reality Fictions provides a new understanding of the large variety of overlapping institutional, epistemological, and practical structures of power that the European Middle Ages presents to us and the ways that dislocations and transformations of power are registered in the consciousness of those who live through them.

ISBN: 978-0-268-04120-5
304 pages
Publication Year: 2006

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Robert M. Stein is professor of language and literature at the College at Purchase, State University of New York, and adjunct professor of English and comparative literature, Columbia University.

“Stein explains how post-Norman Conquest texts of the 12th century reflect social issues regarding kingship and power. Basing his dicussion on texts from ‘border’ areas that were sites of political unrest, the author begins with the writings of Gerard I, bishop of Cambria, exploring how his historical chronicles were used as political tools. . . Theoretically sophisticated and certain to be a groundbreaking work in Old French studies, this volume includes copious notes. Summing Up: Essential.” — Choice

“This book is an exploration of the relationship between literary innovation and changing socio-political structures. Its four chapters cover the key literary genres of the Middle Ages: hagiography, historiography, romance, and epic, with four extended ‘case studies’ discussed in the book’s four chapters. . . . It will certainly be a classic, and should be read by medievalists and non-medievalists, literary critics, and historians alike.” — Medium Aevum

“It is a tribute to this provocative and elegant study that it raises as many questions as it answers. Whether dealing with texts as familiar as Marie de France’s Guigemar or as unfamiliar as the Latin life of St. Aubert, which remains untranslated and is available only in the eighteenth-century edition of the Bollandists, Stein’s readings are subtle, persuasive, and—deliberately and commendably—inconclusive. . . offers the most convincing and complex account to date of the relation between epic, romance, and history in the long twelfth century.” — Speculum

“Lucid, vivid, consistently intelligent, and deeply informed in documentary and literary sources, Reality Fictions explains why writing the real mattered to diverse eleventh- and twelfth-century people. Stein shows how history, hagiography, epic, and romance developed together, constituting something of a cultural breakthrough for medieval Europe, which was built on a powerful social, political, and psychological platform.” —_The Historian_

“_Reality Fiction’_s greatest strength lies in the intriguing challenges it presents both to medievalists and theorists of nationalism to re-consider ways in which pre-modern peoples imagined political communities.” — Arturiana

“This is one of the scholarly works I have most enjoyed reading in the last several years. Part of my pleasure stems . . . from the author’s intelligence, erudition, his choice of texts to be studied, and the quality of his thinking and writing. The chronological, geographical, and cultural coherence of the texts lends the book real historical weight—these texts deserve to be studied together because they belong together-while the variety of languages, styles, and genres in which they are written provides a series of thought-provoking changes of perspective. This is a particularly rewarding study.” — Encomia

“_Reality Fictions_ offers a deft exploration of the complex relationships that underpin the cultural work of narrative expression in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. . . . The careful, well-crafted elucidations of Stein’s work never fail to test previous assumptions and spark further lines of inquiry. . . . This timely study yields an enjoyably challenging and original book that should serve as a model for informed, considered, and provocative literary history.” — Modern Philology

“_Reality Fictions_ concerns boundaries between genres, concepts of history and epistemology, eternal realities and worldly ones, one level of truth and another, as conceived of by eleventh- and twelfth-century writers and by present-day scholars. Stein addresses the fluid relationships between power and makers of texts on religion, history, politics and romance; opening up this array of historical and theoretical approaches for discussion in a single book is an important service to medievalists; situating his new work therein is a major achievement.” — Journal of Medieval Latin

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P01013

Reading Medieval Culture

Essays in Honor of Robert W. Hanning


Edited by Robert M. Stein and Sandra Pierson Prior

P03361

Shadow and Substance

Eucharistic Controversy and English Drama across the Reformation Divide

Jay Zysk

P03310

Piers Plowman and the Poetics of Enigma

Riddles, Rhetoric, and Theology

Curtis A. Gruenler

P03262

Michael Psellos on Literature and Art

A Byzantine Perspective on Aesthetics

Michael Psellos
Edited by Charles Barber and Stratis Papaioannou

Reality Fictions

Romance, History, and Governmental Authority, 1025–1180

Robert M. Stein

 Reality Fictions: Romance, History, and Governmental Authority, 1025–1180
Paper Edition

“The sense of being guided by a trustworthy intelligence, deeply grounded in knowledge based on thorough study of the relevant texts, in command of precise and accurate language, is the consistent experience of reading Reality Fictions. This is a genuinely original and important book.” —Nancy Partner, McGill University

“Richly grounded in literary theory, Stein is never its captive; he knows when and how to allow the written text its rejoinder as theory’s necessary corrective. Severe with unconsidered teleologies, always deeply contexted, this fine book abounds in conceptual payoffs. Among my revisionary favorites: his aptly titled (and wittily inverted) concluding chapter, ‘From Romance to Epic.’” —Paul Strohm, Anna S. Garbedian Professor of Humanities, Columbia University

It has long been a commonplace of literary history that in the twelfth century, first in the French-speaking territories controlled by the Anglo-Norman and Capetian ruling families, and especially within the milieu of the English royal court, antique and chivalric romances appear simultaneously with a new kind of historical chronicle driven by contemporary affairs. In short order, historiography and romance, whether written in Latin or in the vernaculars, became culturally dominant kinds of narrative expression throughout the rest of Europe.

Why did this happen? Why did these two new kinds of writing appear simultaneously and spread so rapidly within the same cultural milieu? In Reality Fictions, Robert M. Stein argues that the emergence of historiography and romance was linked to large-scale transformations in the structure of power attendant on Capetian and Anglo-Norman state-making. He maintains that an understanding of the changes in the twelfth-century literary constellation requires us to consider the structure of literary production as a whole and in its relation to the world from which it emerges and to which it responds. Stein argues that romance and history writing grew out of the same cultural need and were intended to perform the same cultural tasks, thus determining their simultaneous appearance, rapid development, and formal affinities.

In the rearrangements of power that were part of the state-making designs of Capetian and Anglo-Norman ruling families, new imaginative and conceptual entities became matters demanding serious representation, often in new discursive configurations, and often for the first time—the boundaries between self and other, the experience of eros, the differentiation of public from private life all took on new contours. A brilliant study of literary innovation, Reality Fictions provides a new understanding of the large variety of overlapping institutional, epistemological, and practical structures of power that the European Middle Ages presents to us and the ways that dislocations and transformations of power are registered in the consciousness of those who live through them.

ISBN: 978-0-268-04120-5

304 pages

“Stein explains how post-Norman Conquest texts of the 12th century reflect social issues regarding kingship and power. Basing his dicussion on texts from ‘border’ areas that were sites of political unrest, the author begins with the writings of Gerard I, bishop of Cambria, exploring how his historical chronicles were used as political tools. . . Theoretically sophisticated and certain to be a groundbreaking work in Old French studies, this volume includes copious notes. Summing Up: Essential.” — Choice

“This book is an exploration of the relationship between literary innovation and changing socio-political structures. Its four chapters cover the key literary genres of the Middle Ages: hagiography, historiography, romance, and epic, with four extended ‘case studies’ discussed in the book’s four chapters. . . . It will certainly be a classic, and should be read by medievalists and non-medievalists, literary critics, and historians alike.” — Medium Aevum

“It is a tribute to this provocative and elegant study that it raises as many questions as it answers. Whether dealing with texts as familiar as Marie de France’s Guigemar or as unfamiliar as the Latin life of St. Aubert, which remains untranslated and is available only in the eighteenth-century edition of the Bollandists, Stein’s readings are subtle, persuasive, and—deliberately and commendably—inconclusive. . . offers the most convincing and complex account to date of the relation between epic, romance, and history in the long twelfth century.” — Speculum

“Lucid, vivid, consistently intelligent, and deeply informed in documentary and literary sources, Reality Fictions explains why writing the real mattered to diverse eleventh- and twelfth-century people. Stein shows how history, hagiography, epic, and romance developed together, constituting something of a cultural breakthrough for medieval Europe, which was built on a powerful social, political, and psychological platform.” —_The Historian_

“_Reality Fiction’_s greatest strength lies in the intriguing challenges it presents both to medievalists and theorists of nationalism to re-consider ways in which pre-modern peoples imagined political communities.” — Arturiana

“This is one of the scholarly works I have most enjoyed reading in the last several years. Part of my pleasure stems . . . from the author’s intelligence, erudition, his choice of texts to be studied, and the quality of his thinking and writing. The chronological, geographical, and cultural coherence of the texts lends the book real historical weight—these texts deserve to be studied together because they belong together-while the variety of languages, styles, and genres in which they are written provides a series of thought-provoking changes of perspective. This is a particularly rewarding study.” — Encomia

“_Reality Fictions_ offers a deft exploration of the complex relationships that underpin the cultural work of narrative expression in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. . . . The careful, well-crafted elucidations of Stein’s work never fail to test previous assumptions and spark further lines of inquiry. . . . This timely study yields an enjoyably challenging and original book that should serve as a model for informed, considered, and provocative literary history.” — Modern Philology

“_Reality Fictions_ concerns boundaries between genres, concepts of history and epistemology, eternal realities and worldly ones, one level of truth and another, as conceived of by eleventh- and twelfth-century writers and by present-day scholars. Stein addresses the fluid relationships between power and makers of texts on religion, history, politics and romance; opening up this array of historical and theoretical approaches for discussion in a single book is an important service to medievalists; situating his new work therein is a major achievement.” — Journal of Medieval Latin