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Chivalry and Carnage: Medieval Themes in HF

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annis
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Chivalry and Carnage: Medieval Themes in HF

Post by annis » Sun October 26th, 2008, 12:22 am

I originally put this thread in the General Discussion section, but thought it might be more useful here:

Came across this interesting article by Tom Holland, author of "Millennium"

It's called "Chivalry and Carnage"
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-enter ... 70617.html

Inspired by the recent release and runaway success of Bernard Cornwell's novel "Azincourt", Tom Holland discusses the phenomenon of the popularity of medieval themes in fiction after decades of neglect, and examines how modern sensibilities and perceptions are reflected in the treatment and interpretations of the medieval period in current historical fiction.
Last edited by annis on Sun October 26th, 2008, 3:58 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Carla » Sun October 26th, 2008, 4:04 pm

Interesting article, thanks for posting the link. He might be overstating his case a bit - what do you think? The latest Bernard Cornwell would zoom into the bestseller charts on the strength of his name no matter when and where it was set, and fads and fashions tend to come in cycles. The Victorians idealised the Middle Ages, so there was a reaction that sniffily dismissed the period, and now perhaps there's a reaction to the reaction, and so on round. That said, I'm all in favour of increased interest in the Middle Ages, and of history in general. We got here as a cumulative result of history, and that means all of it, not just the easy or the sexy bits.

This bit made me smile: "to work as a medievalist is forever to be gnawed at by a sense of the patchiness and ambiguity of the sources". He should try early medieval :-)
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annis
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Post by annis » Sun October 26th, 2008, 8:35 pm

It's probably true to say that Bernard Cornwell is a phenomenon in his own right, and that his success has opened up the acceptability of historical fiction in general to the reading public, with maybe an emphasis on historical adventure. Writers like Simon Scarrow, Robert Low and Con Iggulden owe him a huge debt. So, yes, anything Bernard Cornwell writes in whatever historical setting is going to be hugely popular.

The Victorians had a major love affair with the Middle Ages, and the fiction, poetry and art of the times certainly reflects that, but it's interesting to go back and look at Jonathan Nield's "Guide to the Best Historical Novels and Tales" to see the varied historical subjects covered by nineteenth and early twentieth century authors of historical fiction. All sorts of obscure historical periods received attention, sometimes with more enthusiasm than historical accuracy ( though that’s not a fault limited to the Victorians!)
It's true that a lot of those old novels were pretty florid and sentimental in style .

I wonder if the brutal realities of two world wars turned a generation or two off the romanticized vision of medieval warfare depicted by the Victorians, and that now enough time has passed for us to rediscover the Middle Ages on our own terms?

Ironically Noel Malcolm in his “Telegraph”review rather snippily accuses Tom Holland in his book “Millennium” of using the same sort of purple prose and sweeping generalizations unsupported by fact characteristic of Victorian writers of high adventure!

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Post by donroc » Sun October 26th, 2008, 9:08 pm

The return of "stained glass attitudes" cannot be far behind. :D
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Bodo the Apostate, a novel set during the reign of Louis the Pious and end of the Carolingian Empire.

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Post by Volgadon » Sun October 26th, 2008, 10:06 pm

As for me, I haven't really found much in common between Thomas of Hooktown and the heroes of the White Company.

annis
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Post by annis » Mon October 27th, 2008, 6:39 am

I read "The White Company" many years ago, but never realised until quite recently that the story was loosely based on the exploits of fourteenth century English mercenary captain Sir John Hawkwood and his company.

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Post by Melisende » Sat November 1st, 2008, 2:47 am

Ahhh - but which "White Company" ??? Hawkwood was a member of two of such name and not a member of another (of same name).
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annis
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Post by annis » Sat November 1st, 2008, 3:50 am

You've got me there, Melisende- I have no idea! Though while trying to find the answer I did come across another old novel (1911), called "Sir John Hawkwood;: A tale of the White company in Italy" by Marion Polk Angellotti along the byways of the internet.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "White Company" must have been very loosely based on Hawkwood's exploits, as Hawkwood fought originally in France under Edward III , before joining a White Company (the first?) and died in Italy in 1394, some years before the Battle of Agincort.

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Post by Margaret » Mon November 3rd, 2008, 10:13 pm

Interesting article. It's true, of course, that fiction critics during recent decades have tended to ignore or sneer at fiction set during the Middle Ages. But readers don't necessarily pay much attention to the critics. The "Medieval" page at my Historical Novels website gets consistently heavy traffic. While the most-visited page, after the home page, varies from one day to the next, if I look at a period of a week or so, the Medieval page is pretty much always at the top.
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