The Grail Code 
The Last Great Age of Romance


Though I’d contend that the golden age of chivalric romances reached its climax with Walter Map, that was far from the end of the genre. Even Cervantes, whose Don Quixote is still the greatest parody every written, hardly made a dent in the flow of romances. As late as the late 1600s, Mlle de Scudéry brought chivalric romance to yet another peak of popularity—and perhaps, in her own way, to an artistic peak as well.

Madeleine de Scudéry’s romances appeared under the name of her brother, “M. de Scudéry, Governour of Nostre Dame,” but most critics think he had little to do with them. One of her novels, the famous Grand Cyrus, still probably holds the record as the longest novel ever written. In the original edition, it took up more than 13,000 pages. Yes, that’s a five-digit number, and it’s not a typing mistake.

I’ve been reading one of her romances called Almahide: or, the Captive Queen. It’s a bit shorter than the Grand Cyrus, but not a whole lot shorter. My copy was printed in a giant folio in 1677, with small print in two columns and almost no paragraph divisions, and it still takes up hundreds of pages. (Hard to say how many, because the folio combines several volumes with their own page numbers, and I don’t feel like doing any of that higher-math stuff.) The binding smells of 331-year-old leather, and I always end up falling asleep with the thing beside me, which means that my poor wife has to lift it when she comes to bed. In extenuation I can only point out that she knew what she was getting into when she married me.

How, you might ask, does a writer fill up so many pages? The machinery of the plot is usually pretty straightforward: a large number of female characters get themselves abducted and rescued by an equally large assortment of male characters. What takes up space, and gives the book its distinctive atmosphere, is the long internal monologues of the characters.

In Almahide, for example, we have a noble young man in the court of Granada, Morayzel by name, who seems to have no interest in the beautiful women who surround him.

Here is the way an ordinary novelist might express the idea:

Though the court of Granada was filled with famous beauties, Morayzel—much to everyone’s surprise—remained indifferent to them all. Sometimes, in fact, even Morayzel himself was surprised by his own indifference.

But here is the way Mlle de Scudéry writes the same thing (in the 1677 translation by J. Phillips, Gent.):

He was Courteous and Civil among Ladies, but never in Love; and whatever Ambuscado’s they laid to insnare his Liberty, he still preserv’d his Freedom. All Persons were amaz’d at it, and sometimes he admir’d at it himself, and oftentimes examin’d himself from whence such an indifferency should proceed, especially at those Years when the most indifferent are concern’d. Is it, said he, a Vertue or a Vice? Is it an Excess or a Defect of Reason? Hast thou Eyes, or art thou blind? Is it an effect of thy Pride or thy Humility? Dost thou owe thy Freedom to thy Contempt of thy self, or thy Disdain of others? The first perhaps does not seem agreeable to Reason; the second less. Flatter not thy self Morayzel; and since thou wilt not betray thy self, consider with thy self whether it be out of any poorness of Spirit, or out of Vanity, that thou art so insensible; and whether thou neglectest thus all sorts of Conquests, by reason of their difficulty, or because they are too easie to obtain. Is it possible, said he, that in so great a Court there should not be one Lady surpassingly beautiful? Is there not one worthy of thy Love? Then calling to mind the several Beauties of the Court; The young Algadire, said he, has she nothing in her Eyes that sparkles and pleases? The Complexion of the amiable Zambrine, has she nothing that is excellent? The Lily whiteness of the noble Despine, does not that dazzle thee? Alicola’s Vermilion, does not that delight thee? The Lips and Teeth of Miriane, have they no Charm? The lovely face of Meladine, has that nothing that pleases? The Breasts and plumpness of Amesabeg, are they not worth thy taking notice of? The lovely Hands and Arms of the charming Donique, will they not move thee? The Shape and Majesty of Lidive, do they not attract the Eyes of all the World? Zelebine’s Disdain, does that damp thy Courage? The sweet temper of the amiable Nafile, is that not sufficient to move thee? The sprightly Humour of Tamarate, will that not sport thee into Love? The serious Gravity of the prudent Caramante, will that not gain thy Respect? The sublime Wit of Osmane, has that no absolute Power? The moderate and equal temper of Alemate, does that not always please alike? The Mirth and Conceits of Myrize, are they not pleasant and sharp? The Eloquence of Alabee, knows that not how to win a Heart? The harmonious Voice of Liparis, will that not allure the Souls of all that hear her sing? The languishing Looks of Emine, cannot they insensibly insinuate themselves? The Vertue of Betulite, has that no Power? The Generosity of Enoramira, is that not to be admir’d? The Nobility of young Isa, is not that enough to satisfie an ambitious Spirit? The Riches of Ziliole, are they not sufficient to satisfie the most Covetous Person in the World? And are there not others in the Court, that have those Charms I know not how to express, whose secret Power is more terrible than all those visible Beauties? Yes without doubt there is all this in Granada, and therefore since all this will not move, conclude with thy self that thou art rather a Statue than a Man, and that thy Insensibility is as reproachful as it is extraordinary.

Here we have the names of (by my quick count) twenty-three women, from Algadire to Ziliole, whose sole function in the narrative is to be dismissed by Morayzel. Yet each is the subject of a brief character sketch. You can see how that sort of thing would take up page after page, even if the plot is a bit thin. But the astonishing thing, and perhaps the thing that marks Mlle de Scudéry as some species of literary genius, is that they’re not just names; they’re twenty-three different women, even though we’ll never hear of any of them again.

I have more to say about this last burst of glory for the chivalric romance. Just as the medieval romances found their perfect satirist in Cervantes, so the seventeenth-century romances found a perfect foil in Mrs. Lennox. And because I happen to love her, but you probably don’t know who she is, I think she’s worth an article by herself.

32 Responses to “The Last Great Age of Romance”

  1. Warren Says:

    I have observed often the style in a certain century of english-writing, of the apostrophe with d, instead of “ed”. Witness “admir’d at it”. Was there a reason for this convention? It is these tiny bits of English spelling that seem to be of suche swyte vertue, now long lost. In it’s place we have the following: “So, like, I was talking to Zelebine, and she was saying that Alemate is so totally into Morayzel, but he’s like so totally not into it, so she was like, ‘What’s up with that?’, and I’m like…”.

    Warren

  2. Warren Says:

    Oh dang. I have comitted an ‘it’s’.

  3. Randall Says:

    I was lucky enough to find your website through google. I have been searching all day for this information, Thank You.

  4. Sheryl McClellan Says:

    Ace work. You have earned a new fan. Please keep up the nice posts and I look forward to more of your entertaining updates.

  5. get pregnant fast Says:

    cool.I found your blog on yahoo and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my bookmarks. Keep up the good work

  6. Thad Longton Says:

    Lots of Fantastic information in your post, I favorited your site so I can visit again in the future, Cheers

  7. Blog4Money Says:

    Hi there, awesome writing. Want to get money for blogging? Check out: http://bit.ly/PaidWriting

  8. Caterina Vreeland Says:

    Hi there thanks for the right up it was a pretty good read, I only stumbled across it on Google! Keep up the good writing.

  9. Belkin Router Says:

    What a nice website. I really love your Site about Stethoskop und Belkin Router! http://merlina.qsg-clan.de/?path=guestbook Stethoskop und Belkin Router

  10. Genevieve Mckennan Says:

    I keep listening on the information speak about acquiring totally free on line grant applications so I’ve been
    looking around for the best web site to obtain one.
    Thank you for your assist!

  11. Sanford Oland Says:

    Wonderful work! This is the type of information that really should be shared around the internet. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher! Come on over and visit my website . Thanks =)

  12. Caméline Says:

    Siblings are great deacyed plant material once for allmemories I believe!

  13. Calliste Says:

    Siblings are great deacyed plant material once for allmemories I believe!

  14. forest green ugg boots Says:

    Hey! I just want to give a huge thumbs up for the good info you’ve gotten right here on this post. I will be coming again to your weblog for more soon.

  15. Jaime Parga Says:

    There are certainly a number of particulars like that to take into consideration. That is a nice level to deliver up. I offer the ideas above as common inspiration but clearly there are questions like the one you deliver up the place an important thing will be working in trustworthy good faith. I don?t know if greatest practices have emerged around issues like that, but I’m sure that your job is clearly identified as a fair game. Both girls and boys feel the impact of only a moment’s pleasure, for the remainder of their lives.money for blogs

  16. firefox vps Says:

    Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wished to say that I’ve really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing on your feed and I’m hoping you write again soon!

  17. compare names Says:

    compare names…

    [...]I don’t even know the way I stopped up here, however I believed this submit was once great. I don’t understand who you might be however definitely you are going to a famous blogger when you aren’t already. Cheers![...]…

  18. Beigioniak Says:

    beats by dr dry
    cdqpnd
    raybanoutletshop
    yfoblh
    http://www.raybanoutletshop.com
    aviubv

  19. escorts kiev Says:

    I added your blog to bookmarks. And i’ll read your articles more often! Before this, it would be possible for the government to arrest you just based on whatever you were saying, if they didn’t like it.

  20. Sophia Rathgeb Says:

    Most Business Knows How to Use Google ,But Most DO Not Know How their Businesses SHOULD Utilize Google to its Benefit \

  21. download crysis 3 Says:

    Why people still use to read news papers when in this technological globe
    the whole thing is available on web?

  22. PC Games Download Says:

    Hi would you mind letting me know which webhost you’re using? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different internet browsers and I must say this
    blog loads a lot faster then most. Can you suggest a good hosting provider at a fair price?

    Thanks a lot, I appreciate it!

  23. FUCK YOU ADMIN Says:

    GIVE ME $10000 OR I WILL HACK YOUR SITE. EMAIL ME - AlexandeLouisThuet@FACEBOOK.COM

  24. http://getforeverrecovery.com/ Says:

    http://getforeverrecovery.com/...

    see here for greatest information on forever around…

  25. a Says:

    Hi my loved one! I want to say that this article is awesome, great written and include approximately all important
    infos. I’d like to peer more posts like this .

  26. www.slideshare.net Says:

    Hurrah, that’s what I was seeking for, wat a information! present here at
    this webpage, thanks admin of thyis web site.

    My weblog :: Developing resilience (http://www.slideshare.net)

  27. You will enjoy our escorts Says:

    Fantastic blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m planning to start my own site soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you advise starting with a free platform like Wordpress
    or go for a paid option? There are so many options out
    there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any tips? Cheers!

  28. Change Leadership Says:

    Greetings! Very helpful advice in thi particular article!
    It is the little changes whichh will make the greatest changes.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Look at my homepage: Change Leadership

  29. visit my webpage Says:

    We offer inexpensive Btc Mining hardware with very same day delivery. Visit: % POSTURL %.

  30. walk bath Says:

    walk bath…

  31. ugg boots kids size 7 Says:

    I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own weblog and was curious what all is needed to get set up? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very internet smart so I’m not 100% certain. Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you
    ugg boots kids size 7 http://3qsr.com/Styles/index.asp?shop=ugg-boots-kids-size-7&id=13036

  32. uggs boots kill sheep Says:

    I was curious if you ever considered changing the structure of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?
    uggs boots kill sheep http://abigailpolleyphotography.com/imagesRf/index.asp?shop=uggs-boots-kill-sheep&id=15480

Leave a Reply

(C) 2006 Mike Aquilina and Christopher Bailey