05 April 2011
In Nicola McDonald’s introduction to Pulp Fictions of Medieval England, she argues for a renaissance of medieval romance scholarship, drawing parallels between Romance conventions and contemporary popular fiction. McDonald traces how misconceptions about romantic literature were constructed, and she offers a new lens through which to read and appreciate romance. And lastly, McDonald asserts that romance must not be limited to a few surface observations, that romance literature possesses “that which is essential to all provocative literature, the interrogation of the norms that order and regulate our lives.” This assertion positions romance literature as a mirror to the past as well as a tool by which medieval writers critiqued society; therefore making the texts relevant to scholarship and placing romance within a world of intrigue.
A. The connection between Medieval Romance Literature and popular culture:
McDonald claims that popularity and “academic elitism” are what “excludes it from serious and sustained academic consideration” (2).
Further, McDonald asserts, “if it stimulates debate about popular romance it will have more than served its purpose” (3).
B. Likens romance to radicalism:
Again, McDonald connects the past to present through a similar thread of censorship.
Throughout history different figures have openly positioned medieval romance as a base form of entertainment or as “’dangerous recreations’” (3).
Today the censorship emerges from academia in a “critical fashion” (4). That is, academics are mostly the people reading and still writing about literature in an elitist manner.
C. Academic failure of cultural hierarchy:
Because academia places an aesthetic judgment on romance as residing within a world of pleasure, “Middle English romance is constructed by modern scholarship as second-rate” (11).
Consider that McDonald proposes we approach hierarchy as a map instead of a building with elevated art at the top, and entertainment, or pleasure driven culture, located in the basement.
D. How to view romance:
McDonald contends that medieval romance is complex; however, the conventions of “narrative desire” mixed with outrageous, larger than life events, can help us understand their culture as it relates to modernity as well as why it was and is read.
Also, a high level of convention in romance yields a high level of gratification.
Lastly, McDonald returns to the idea that romance seeks “the interrogation of the norms that order and regulate our lives” (17).
McDonald listed a few genres that relate to popular medieval romance. Can you think of any popular genres today from which we gain gratification from the conventions it uses?
How can we apply McDonalds assertions about romance to our criticism?