Medieval romances by authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer may be early examples of literature in English, but they are still intricately constructed pieces of writing. A new book by Jamie McKinstry shows how these tales use a complex system of objects, places, dreams and other narrative elements to help readers to remember their action. Such works highlight the links between memory and the creative processes of writing and reading.
In Middle English romances many memories are created, stored, forgotten, and rediscovered by both the characters and audience; such memory work is not, however, either simple or obvious. This study examines the ways in which recollection is achieved and sustained through physical, cognitive, and interpretative challenges. It uses examples such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Orfeo, and Emaré, alongside romances by Chaucer and Malory, to investigate the genre’s reliance on individual and collective memorial processes. It is argued that a tale’s objects, places, dreams, discoveries, disguises, prophecies, and dramatic ironies influence that romance’s essential memory work, which relies as much on creativity as it does accuracy. In addition, the study also explores the imaginative crafts of memory that are employed by romances themselves.
Jamie draws on recent discoveries in memory and cognition to understand these old stories, showing how medicine and the humanities can work together (see Durham’s Centre for Medical Humanities).
Middle English Romance and the Craft of Memory is published by Boydell & Brewer. To learn more about Jamie’s research, here’s an interview Jamie conducted with READ last year. You can also contact Jamie directly to discuss his research further.