Malory and Authorship: A Study of an Irresolvable Debate

University dissertation from Lund University

Abstract: This thesis examines the scholarly study of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur, especially the way in which the field has been shaped by the discovery of the Winchester MS in 1934. Owing to the complex relationship between the manuscript and the printed edition of 1485, both contradictory and co-dependent, Le Morte seems to invite a number of narratives regarding its origins and originality while simultaneously foreclosing definitive resolution. Two issues have dominated the scholarly study of Le Morte after 1934: the search for the biographical identity of its author, and the scholarly disagreement about textual unity. Section one of this thesis examines the critical understanding of how the book relates to its mysterious author and its highly influential French source-texts. The first two chapters investigate critical co-readings of Le Morte with the life-records of three different authorship candidates. Chapter 3 analyses the tension between textual criticism and literary interpretation which underpins the disagreement between Eugène Vinaver and C.S. Lewis in their discussion of authorship and textual meaning. Section two investigates the complex relation between the two textual witnesses to Malory’s work. Whereas chapter 4 demonstrates that a stemmatic approach to the search for originality and origins is highly problematic, chapter 5 shows how other narratives of origins and originality are equally facilitated and foreclosed. Chapter 5 also examines the problem of ‘unity’ in Malory’s work. Chapter 6 is devoted to the Winchester MS and the narratives about its history and meaning. Section three looks at how the relationship between Malory and the scholarship around him has developed in the post-Winchester years. Critical perception of the work as requiring a simple reader for its true meaning to be revealed, examined in chapter 7, is held up against the notion that the book’s worthiness requires personal affinity or personal worthiness on the part of its critics, discussed in chapter 8. The final chapter investigates how the search for stability and origins is transferred from Malory and Le Morte to the scholars’ understanding of their own field and methodology.

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