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Walter Map and the Matter of Britain
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Walter Map and the Matter of Britain

Joshua Byron Smith

272 pages | 6 x 9 | 1 illus.
Cloth 2017 | ISBN 9780812249323 | $75.00s | Outside the Americas £60.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the Middle Ages Series
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"Joshua Byron Smith lays hold of two slippery entities, not one, thereby meriting praise. What he offers is professional scholarship, elegantly presented by himself and his publisher. Painstaking and wide-ranging, his investigations nevertheless have clarity and even wit (a rare quality in a research volume) . . . Walter Map and the Matter of Britain deserves welcome as a groundbreaker."—Modern Philology

"Walter Map and the Matter of Britain is an impressive book that draws on considerable expertise in the study of Welsh and Latin literature . . . Smith's work stands in an interesting dialogue with scholarship in this area—for certainly, he makes a strong claim for the value of high medieval Latin literature as a source for study in the historical dissemination of Welsh materials in England."—Journal of British Studies

"[A] thought-provoking and original book, which represents the new starting point for any future discussion of Walter Map . . . The prose is engaging, accessible and often witty, resulting in a book which is both academically rigorous and highly readable. Smith's approach is truly interdisciplinary, and his quest to identify Map's textual sources, rather than simply pointing to oral traditions (which can rarely be proved or disproved), is refreshing."—Cultural and Social History

"Joshua Byron Smith's engaging and thought-provoking study uses what we know of Walter's life, works and reputation to explore a range of important questions, not only about Walter himself, but about the transmission of the Matter of Britain and the relationship of Welsh, Latin and French writing in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.—Review of English Studies

"Joshua Byron Smith has presented a meticulous work that more than accomplishes his primary aim of making Walter Map and his Latin sources relevant once more."—Comitatus

"Working fluidly across Latin and Welsh sources, Joshua Byron Smith makes clear why Walter Map is so important in his own right and also useful as a lens for exploring the growth of romance."—Siân Echard, University of British Columbia

"Impressive in its scholarship, manner of exposition, and significance, Walter Map and the Matter of Britain offers an important new interpretation of Walter Map as an author, which in turn provides a firm basis from which to develop significant arguments about the circulation of Welsh literary material beyond Wales."—Huw Pryce, Bangor University

Why would the sprawling thirteenth-century French prose Lancelot-Grail Cycle have been attributed to Walter Map, a twelfth-century writer from the Anglo-Welsh borderlands known for his stinging satire, religious skepticism, ghost stories, and irrepressible wit? And why, though the attribution is spurious, is it not, in some ways, implausible?

Joshua Byron Smith sets out to answer these and other questions in the first English-language monograph on Walter Map—and in so doing, he offers a new explanation for how narratives about the pre-Saxon inhabitants of Britain, including King Arthur and his knights, first circulated in England. Smith contends that it was inventive clerics like Walter, and not traveling minstrels or professional translators, who popularized these stories. Smith examines Walter's only surviving work, the De nugis curialium, to demonstrate that it is not the disheveled text that scholars have imagined but rather five separate works in various stages of completion. This in turn provides new evidence to support his larger contention, that ecclesiastical networks of textual exchange played a major role in exporting Welsh literary material into England.

Medieval readers incorrectly envisioned Walter withdrawing ancient Latin documents about the Holy Grail from a monastery and compiling them in order to compose the Lancelot-Grail Cycle. In this detail they were wrong, Smith acknowledges, but a model of literary transmission that is not vernacular and popular but Latinate and ecclesiastical demands our serious consideration.

Joshua Byron Smith is Associate Professor of English at the University of Arkansas.

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