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The Romance of Tristan and Iseult by Joseph…
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The Romance of Tristan and Iseult (1900)

by Joseph Bedier, Béroul

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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The story of Tristan and Iseult was known to me because it was a bedtime story of mine. It's a tale which belongs both to the French and the British as part of their confusing entwined history due to the huge amount of ships which crossed the channel in both directions. I grew up believing it went a little differently than Monsieur Bédier here relates it, but I am satisfied and confused in new ways now that I've read the original translation.

Historical opinions on religion, filial piety, woman's roles, disease and racism aside, this story perplexes me because of the narrators deep sympathy for the characters. Perhaps I do not know about French stories, and perhaps this, like Le Morte d'Arthur, is merely the fashion, but I cannot reconcile the story that has survived until today with the sensibilities of those days.

Tristan is a blessed son of kings, and after a childhood spent in hiding, he returns to the lands of his uncle, King Mark, and becomes the Lancelot to his Arthur. Tristan cannot be defeated, in music, in combat, he is champion and is cherished and loved by all but four barons whose jealously or chivalry bring them to unfold some wicked plots against him.

Mark is a bachelor and when pressed to sire an heir, he mocks his counsel by taking a golden hair a sparrow has brought across the Irish Sea and requesting its owner to become his wife. Tristan, loyal to Mark to a fault, declares he shall find the maiden, and returns to Ireland - he'd been wounded by an Irishman and nursed back to health, unknowingly, by the woman who was his foe's sister. This is the woman he has a mind to find, as her fair hair was possibly the same gold as the hair the sparrows brought.

Iseult's mother brews a potion once Tristan is to take her back to Cornwall, and charges Branigen, Iseult's hand maiden, to make sure that Mark and Iseult drink it on their wedding night, so as to fall into a life long love. When a heatwave on the ship overtakes them, the potion is found, Tristian and Iseult quench their thirst with it, drinking their love, and their death. This is a sentiment often repeated in the tale, 'they drank their death', and certainly places the entire romance in a tragic light. For a while, they love on the sly. There is even a mention of Branigen, in her loyalty, taking Iseult's place in the wedding bed.

I will admit that in a story so entwined with God's implied will, that I have difficulty reconciling half completed ideas of what is moral and what is christian, with these myths embedded in the story and the tragedy itself. Religion isn't quite mythology for me, and I don't believe many atheists even view religion the same way they view some pagan belief they were never raised in. It's hard to reconcile something which represents an ancestral state with the present day.

It might surprise you that my favorite characters were those without a story: the narrator, who may not be a character aside from that part of Joseph Bédier which was projected into the story with his own opinions on events; Branigen and King Mark, who perhaps, unknowingly, have their own love story; if not with each other, I'd like to know about the family that Branigen left behind in Ireland; my favorite of all, Iseult of the White Hands, the fair princess of France whom Tristan marries after a long seperation from Iseult the Fair. Her trechery, as it may be called, is lightly forgiven by Joseph Bédier, and she herself atones for it, but I find it completed her character. She was a combination of Juliet and Lady Macbeth. She carried a dagger and used it on herself. She drank the poison she intended to give someone else. If I were directing the movie, I would make her the narrator, and leave Joseph Bédier to one side.

Tristan and Iseult is a poor story, critically, and it isn't complete for me. I don't sympathise with the lovers as much as I should, and I can't understand how their reprieves, said to be granted by God, are Christian. I think it says more about the narrator and the author being God, which is something my contemporary readers may find a common problem. Today we would call 'God's will' contrivance, laziness on some part to make the plot the action and the characters passive.

Using the phrase, 'God's will' isn't the problem, or even bringing God into the mix isn't so bad, but I really have difficulty seeing the Christian worth in all the things that God supposedly did in their favor. Was there a lesson that God was trying to teach them? Was God trying to offer them respite before their certain deaths? Apparently readers agreed with the Christian themes back then and for many ? years after. How about you? If you're familiar with the story, from the Wagnerian opera or James Franco's movie, or if you've also read the book, let me know, I'm open for any interpretation.


read more at auroralector.blogspot.com
  knotbox | Jun 9, 2016 |
Listened to this on Librivox and it was beautifully narrated but very confusing because there were so many characters. This is one action packed story. It's supposed to be this great romance but Tristan and Iseult didn't fall in love, they had a spell cast on them so is that a romance? ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
Listened to this on Librivox and it was beautifully narrated but very confusing because there were so many characters. This is one action packed story. It's supposed to be this great romance but Tristan and Iseult didn't fall in love, they had a spell cast on them so is that a romance? ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
The Romance of Tristan and Iseult (1913; 12th century), Drawn from the Best French Sources and Retold by J. Bédier; Rendered into English by H. Belloc (5 stars)

Six-word review: Very old, very beautiful, very rich.

Read this medieval romance for its beautiful language and for its place in our history.

I purchased a paper copy of The Romance of Tristan and Iseult, the 1913 translation by Hilaire Belloc, so I could enjoy it in comfort, away from anything that plugs in. I grew up reading stories like that, written like that, alongside the King James Bible.

Some of the most beautiful English in existence is in the King James version of the Bible, released in 1606. For poetry and cadence, a well-told medieval tale comes behind it, but not by far. The marvel of the Belloc treatment of Tristan and Iseult is not only that someone could still write like that in the twentieth century or even that it could still be published--because in 1913 there was still a traditional very high literary standard--but that a hundred years later someone is keeping it in print. It begins:

My lords, if you would hear a high tale of love and of death, here is that of Tristan and Queen Iseult; how to their full joy, but to their sorrow also, they loved each other, and how at last they died of that love together upon one day; she by him and he by her.

The story tells how heroic Tristan, sent to fetch the fair Iseult as bride of his uncle King Mark, unwittingly shares a love potion with her. The two are thus powerless to resist an adulterous affair, forcing them to deceive good King Mark and draw down calumny upon themselves. What happens then and how it all turns out are not just part of the story but part of our heritage as speakers of English.

You can also find this work online, thanks to Project Gutenberg:
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/14244/14244-h/14244-h.htm#link2H_4_0005 ( )
2 vote Meredy | Dec 30, 2015 |
THE love story of all love stories. ( )
  JessLJones | Sep 10, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (30 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bedier, Josephprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Béroulmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Belloc, HilaireTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Colum, PadraicIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
de Rougemont, DennisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fónagy, Ivánsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ghelber, MarinaContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hegedüs, Istvánsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Loke, MarieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oppenheim, Annie L.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paris, GastonForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Riba, CarlesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Riquer, Martí deForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosenfeld, PaulTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Simmonds, FlorenceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stuyvaert, VictorIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
von Numers, LorenzTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Long ago, when Mark was King over Cornwall, Rivalen, King of Lyonesse, heard that Mark's enemies waged war on him; so he crossed the sea to bring him aid; and so faithfully did he serve him with counsel and sword that Mark gave him his sister Blanchefleur, whom King Rivalen loved most marvellously. (Belloc/Rosenfeld translation)
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The Bedier adaptation and its translations. Do not combine other versions of the legend here.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679750169, Paperback)

The story of the Cornish knight and the Irish princess who meet by deception, fall in love by magic, and pursue that love in defiance of heavenly and earthly laws has inspired artists through the centuries. But nowhere has it been retold with greater eloquence and dignity than this edition, which weaves several medieval sources into a seamless whole.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:33 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

THE ONLY COMPLETE AND DEFINITIVE eBOOK VERSION OF JOSEPH BEDIER?S FRENCH CLASSIC AVAILABLE IN ENGLISH ALL of Hillaire Belloc?s omissions? more than 10,000 words, missing (suppressed) from all other electronic English versions of the translation? have been beautifully restored in this FONTHILL PRESS eBook and the hardcover editions. ADDITIONALLY, only here will you find: Gaston Paris? original Preface Joseph Bedier?s milestone essay on French elements of the story Vincent Nicolosi?s luminous introductory notes on Celtic aspects of the legend of Tristan and Iseult.… (more)

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