Day 1210: Le Morte D’Arthur

Cover for Le Morte D'ArthurIt’s time for my review for the latest Classics Club Spin, and the spin assigned me Le Morte D’Arthur to read by the end of April.

If I’d been aware of how long this book is, I might have thought twice about putting it on my Classics Club list. It’s not the length that made it so difficult to read, though, but the repetitiveness of one knight after another getting into a joust and smiting right and left.

I tried hard to finish this book, but after a month of reading it (interrupted by a few other books), I decided to skip to the last two books (out of twenty-one), which deal with Lancelot’s break with Arthur and the end of Arthur’s kingdom. All told, I read about 400 pages.

I actually began eager to read the original of the Arthurian legends or at least as original as we have. The introduction to Cassell’s unabridged edition says that we don’t know the source of the book, although Malory makes many references to “the French book.” The structure of the book suggests that it may be a compilation of every Arthurian story known to Malory, as it is full of chapters about fight after fight. In fact, after a while I pictured Britain, particularly Cornwall and Wales, as seething with wandering knights, who, when they encounter one another, go immediately into battle. I was also struck by how often they don’t recognize each other even when in the same room and presumably out of armor.

There are some sustained story lines, such as the tale of Tristram and La Beale Isoud, and they are interesting, but they’re broken up and sprinkled in among the fights, and of course they too involve fights.

Women are fairly negligibly treated, not surprising for the time despite the patina of chivalry, which is supposed to suggest otherwise. We don’t see much of them or learn what they are like. In fact, Arthur says at the end of the book that he isn’t as upset about losing Guenever as the loss of his knights “. . . for queens I might have enow, but such a fellowship of good knights shall never be together in no company.” Which might give us a clue why Guenever preferred Lancelot.Β In any event, characterization isn’t a strong suit of medieval literature.

I would say that this book is best for dipping into rather than trying to read all at once. It is an important work of literature, and sometimes the language is quite charming. However, its form is very foreign to us now and shows us just how far literature has come. (There is a glossary in the back of the version I read, which unfortunately I didn’t discover until the end.)

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9 thoughts on “Day 1210: Le Morte D’Arthur

  1. Jean @ Howling Frog April 30, 2018 / 11:01 am

    I love Malory, but it takes a long time to read. So much blood brasting all over the place, and of course awful to women. Congrats for getting as far as you did!

    • whatmeread April 30, 2018 / 12:11 pm

      Thanks! I think if I owned a copy, I would dip back into it, but I had to get this one back to the library.

  2. Laurie @ RelevantObscurity April 30, 2018 / 1:34 pm

    I admire you for tackling this great lug of a book πŸ™‚ You are brave and I think you did a great job. I understand about the repetition. Interestingly, I am reading this book, too, but as a ‘slow read’ this year, just a few pages a day. Like you, I really wanted to read this as an original or foundational book on the subject of Arthur and his Knights, but the page count seemed so daunting!

    • whatmeread April 30, 2018 / 3:54 pm

      I think the way you’re approaching it is much more sensible. I would love to try it that way, but I think the library would have something to say if I kept it out for a year!

      • Laurie @ RelevantObscurity April 30, 2018 / 4:21 pm

        Oh my and at some point the fees would bankrupt you! Fortunately, I bought this years ago. Now I just have to remember to return the other books on time πŸ™‚

  3. FictionFan April 30, 2018 / 5:20 pm

    I still have this sitting in my bookshelf, complete with bookmark at about page 300, or approximately the 200th fight! I still intend to read the rest someday, but I’ve had that intention for about fifteen years now. πŸ˜‰ Well done for getting on as well as you did – it definitely does read more like a collection of rather repetitive episodes rather than a structured novel, but I suppose that could be seen as half the charm…

    • whatmeread April 30, 2018 / 5:35 pm

      LOL about the 200th fight! I heard from one other person who is reading it a few pages a day. Maybe that would work.

  4. justjase79 May 2, 2018 / 3:39 am

    After struggling to read the Shahnameh last year, I too decided that dipping-in-and-out was the best way to approach these books. I would never have finished the Arabian Nights this year if I had not read it in 250 page chunks, and this was not even the entire 1001 nights, just a selection of them.

    • whatmeread May 2, 2018 / 11:55 am

      I too tried reading 1001 Arabian Nights years ago. Even though I was reading a bit every night, I finally gave up only a few hundred pages in. It was too hard following the threads of all the stories!

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