Thursday, January 24, 2008

Looking for the Popular Fiction of Medieval Times

As a former English major, I can’t help but look back at the literary intersection of my medieval historicals. It’s fun and illuminating to see what was being written during the time period my stories are set.

My upcoming historical, A KNIGHT MOST WICKED, has some interesting literary ties. The book is set in 1381 and starts off in Bohemia before moving to England. My heroine, Arabella, is caught up in the royal procession accompanying Anne of Bohemia to London in order to wed King Richard. Some scholars suggest that Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls was written in celebration of Richard and Anne’s marriage. The story tells—by way of a dream vision—of a woman’s indecision in choosing a suitor, and is significant both because of its romantic nature and because of its use of English vernacular. Neither the subject nor the language choice are unique to Chaucer, but both were unique for the time. Chaucer is sometimes credited as the father of English literature because of his use of vernacular, and is of interest to me because of his introduction of romantic themes. Parliament of Fowls discusses the conflict between a patriarchal society and the goals of the courtly love tradition.

Chaucer’s piece is unmentioned in A KNIGHT MOST WICKED, but I couldn’t resist weaving in a literary reference that seemed appropriate for the time and considering my hero’s name is Tristan. In an attempt to entertain the heroine at one point, the hero tells the story of Tristan and Isolde, an Arthurian tale that would have been familiar to a knight of the 14th century. The Bohemian heroine is fascinated by the romanticism of the tale and the sacrifice the lovers make in denying their passion. The hero, in the mean time, points out the hardship of denying such a strong desire—a topic rich with new meaning for him as he gets to know a woman who tempts him. The story was a fun way for me to introduce the topic of passion to an innocent heroine while highlighting a key conflict in a medieval relationship. Passion had dire consequences for a medieval noblewoman since giving in meant that either marriage or public shame soon followed.

Read more about English literature or check out the excerpt of A KNIGHT MOST WICKED.


Carol Townend said...

Hi Joanne,
Your book sounds great, I am hoping it comes out soon in the UK? Those old stories and epics were wonderful, I always find it hard to remember that while some things were written down, it was mostly an oral tradition, in the early middle ages, anyway.
Best wishes

Merri said...

This sounds great. I love it when the Historical Medievals include a reference to Medieval literature, oral and written, or include it somehow not quite so obvious. I love Chaucer, especially the other works.

Joanne Rock said...

Hi Carol,

No word on a UK release date, but here's hoping! I do like the idea of storytelling as entertainment... it's a bit of a lost art in our era, isn't it? At least in an oral sense. But I always love to sit with someone who can spin a really good tale!

Joanne Rock said...

Merri, Troilus is another one of my favorites... I always liked Chaucer's Cressida better than Shakespeares'. And I'm crazy about Will, so that's saying something :-).