The gift of narrative in medieval England

The gift of narrative in medieval England places medieval narratives – especially romances – in dialogue with theories and practices of gift and exchange. It argues that the dynamics of the gift are powerfully at work in these texts: through exchanges of objects and people; repeated patterns of love, loyalty and revenge; promises made or broken; and the complex effects that time works on such objects, exchanges and promises. The book ranges widely, from the twelfth-century Romance of Horn and English versions of the Horn story to the romances of the Auchinleck Manuscript, and from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to Geoffrey Chaucer and John Lydgate. In reading these texts alongside some of the debates about giving and receiving that radiate from Anthropology and critical theory, Nicholas Perkins asks a number of questions: What role does the circulation of things play in creating narratives? Do romance protagonists themselves act as exchanged objects, and what difference does gender make to how they navigate networks of obligation and agency? Is storytelling a form of gift-giving? Do linguistic exchanges such as promises operate like gifts? How do medieval stories place obligations on the audiences who listen to them or, perhaps, receive a manuscript copy as a precious gift?

Bringing together literary studies, Anthropology and material practice in an invigorating way, this book encourages close attention to the dynamics and pleasures of the gift in narrative.

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