Friday, July 3, 2015

Book Review: Le Roman de la Rose

Title: Le Roman de la Rose

Author: Guillaume de Lorris and Geoffrey Chaucer

Editor: Stephen G. Nichols (Jr.)

Publisher: Meredith

Date: 1967

ISBN: none; click here to see this edition on Amazon, here for the more recent edition of the same texts, or here for an edition of the more common text

Length: 197 pages

Quote: “Une autre image i ot assise / Coste a coste de Covoitise, / Avarice estoit apelee./ Laide estoit e sale e folee...”

"Review" is not the most applicable word here, although this web site uses "review" for posts about books and, for Google purposes, we'll stick to it. Actually what one writes about a book of this vintage is more in the way of an announcement.

Le Roman de la Rose is one of the classics of French literature. It is especially popular at colleges in the English-speaking countries because an early translation by Geoffrey Chaucer, The Romaunt of the Rose, is sometimes ranked among the classics of English literature. The copy I have contains both poems but does not include the later effort by Jean de Meung to “finish” Guillaume de Lorris's story. Some scholars accept Jean de Meung's contribution as part of Le Roman de la Rose; Chaucer didn't, and Nichols doesn't.

It's “Romance” in its classical form, a very philosophical and scholarly study of Romantic Love, allegorized as a young man's adventures in a castle garden. Images of unlovable qualities surround the garden like gargoyles on a cathedral. In the quoted passage, Avarice is placed beside Covetousness and described as ugly, dirty, and foolish. After a long study of these images, the young man is admitted to the garden by a lady called Oiseuse (Chaucer: Ydelnesse). A party is in full swing, with beautiful people who personify lovable qualities dancing and mingling. Our hero falls in love with an especially beautiful (symbolic) rose and wants to pick it. In order to do so he has to swear fealty to Love...and so on. This is no longer a story anybody reads for the plot. If it ever was.

Most people who read Le Roman de la Rose do so for college credit; if taking a course that requires you to read Guillaume de Lorris's unfinished poem and Chaucer's loose translation, but not Jean de Meung's sequel or “completion,” this is the edition to get.

English speakers who read French with a dictionary in hand may not enjoy a poem in which the archaic words and spellings are “translated” with their modern French equivalents only. Those who are comfortable with all the “translations” and notes being in modern French will enjoy this edition of Le Roman de la Rose.

Why am I offering this book for sale? I didn't even take a class that required it, back in the day; these days there are college professors in the U.S. who are more likely to be intimidated, thus unfavorably impressed, rather than favorably impressed if you try to discuss it with them. (A few of those professors were in my classes; they bored me, and I bored them, even at nineteen.) I read it for the sheer fun of figuring out the archaic French words and how they related to their modern French and English equivalents. It's like a puzzle, only (if you have my kind of brain) more fun. Not many people think this kind of thing is fun. But some do, so here's a book for them.

Obviously Guillaume de Lorris does not need a dollar, nor does Geoffrey Chaucer, and although Amazon lists the book I own under Nichols' name it's not his book. So this is not a Fair Trade Book. It has, nonetheless, reached collector prices. For the Nichols edition we'll have to charge $30 per clean used copy + $5 shipping. For a newer edition of de Lorris's and Chaucer's texts but not de Meung's, or for an edition of de Lorris's and de Meung's, we could go down to $25 per clean used copy + $5 shipping. Shipping prices can be consolidated on multiple items shipped in the same package, though, so at least if you buy this along with one or more Fair Trade Books you can consider the shipping free of charge. Paypal or postal money orders are accepted at the addresses at the very bottom of the screen.