Nigel Bryant provides an introduction to his newly published book Chrétien’s Equal: Raoul de Houdenc from the Arthurian Studies series. You can find more books from Nigel Bryant on his author page on our website.
I’m aware that the title we’ve given to these works of Raoul de Houdenc may sound a tad presumptuous, and (blazoned in a very large font on the cover) maybe even hyperbolical. Are we really claiming to have “discovered” an author to rank with one of the medieval greats? Well, yes. His contemporaries thought he was that good, and it’s a mystery that Raoul de Houdenc has till very recently gone largely under the scholarly radar – though I’ve a nerve saying that, because I’m indebted to David Johnson, Professor at Florida State, for having alerted me to the brilliance of the Gawain romance La Vengeance Raguidel: it was only his steer in the direction of Raguidel that led me to explore all the surviving works of a writer who had thitherto passed me by and otherwise might well have stayed that way.
Raoul is genuinely a poet of the highest order, excitingly inventive, linguistically rich and daring, and a great storyteller: I would even dare to claim that in some respects – notably structure and pacing – his Arthurian romances, Raguidel and Meraugis of Portlesguez, not only equal but actually surpass those of Chrétien de Troyes. And although his works sometimes allude to Chrétien’s, he is anything but an imitator or follower: his voice is very distinctive – there’s an intriguing (and often outrageously funny) personality lurking behind these works who at times seems strangely close to us, as if there’s an almost modern person trying to get out. You couldn’t wish for a more vivid and surprising take on the world around him in the first part of the thirteenth century, especially in his groundbreaking satire The Dream of Hell, the framework of which inspired numerous works including the Roman de la Rose.
The range of Raoul’s work is unusual – satire, polemic and Arthurian romances. But it may be that very variety, keeping him as it does out of any clear category, that has caused him to remain relatively unknown. I hope that making his complete works available in translation will change that. Raoul is well worth meeting.
This guest post was written by Nigel Bryant who is well known for his lively and accurate versions of medieval French works. He was awarded the 2019 Norris J. Lacy Prize for outstanding editorial achievement in Arthurian studies.