The story of the study of romance is in many ways the master narrative of the study of medieval literature and of medieval culture in general. Within the study of medieval romance, from its earliest inception, is a peculiar political dialectic, involving fantasies of race, gender, and power. The definition of romance in England (and elsewhere) starts with an obsession with origins, as one would expect of a genre of doubtful legitimacy. Inscribed in the description of romance from the earliest days of its study is a deep suspicion of its parentage. On one side, romance is imagined as indigenous, national, and local, as a form of history before historical consciousness takes shape. On the other side, the origin of romance is imagined as identical with the origins of fiction itself, and these origins are described with the imagery of otherness, which in the eighteenth century at least, meant a version of Orientalism. As with the literature of courtly love in the late nineteenth century, something so socially problematic is described as having originated elsewhere, probably from Arabic poetry through Moorish Spain. Warton’s History of English Poetry in fact begins with the assumption that medieval literature, and Western fiction in general, is energized by the contact of Saracen and Crusader. Pierre-Daniel Huet’s (1630–1721) influential treatise on romance was translated into English in the eighteenth century, and repeats the speculation that romance has its origins in Moorish influence upon Spain, but generally regards fiction itself, with its layers of allegory and rhetoric, as born in the East, infiltrating the West through various routes.1


Eighteenth Century Early Nineteenth Century Early Eighteenth Century English Poetry Medieval Literature 
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© John M. Ganim 2008

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