The gift of narrative in the romances of Horn
in The gift of narrative in medieval England
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This chapter pays detailed attention to a major but little-studied poem of the twelfth century: The Romance of Horn. It reads the many gifts, obligations and exchanges in the text through ongoing debates about the nature of gift-giving: for example, whether a spirit or surplus is generated in the act of giving, and how an individual gift relates to larger structures of reciprocity in society. It argues that in The Romance of Horn, the eponymous hero acts as a gift to the story: arriving as if unmotivated, before revealing the narrative’s prior commitments, debts and patterns of reward and revenge. It also suggests that the act of storytelling, both inside the text and of the text itself, shares these attributes of the gift. The chapter also analyses two English versions of the Horn legend, comparing their treatment of the dynamics of gift and exchange with The Romance of Horn.

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