Three quarters of what is now considered the corpus of Middle English romances were recovered and edited between the 1760s and the 1860s by a handful of dilettante scholars (from Thomas Percy to Frederick J. Furnivall) whose progress in the understanding of the texts and of the time in which they were written follows paths very different from those of modern textual and philological analysis. The present volume describes and discusses more than one hundred primary sources (collections, editions, dissertations, and marginal writings such as glosses and introductions) in order to provide a picture of the infancy of the study of medieval romance in Britain.
The volume is arranged as a chronological review of the amateur scholars and their editorial and critical practices and it was conceived as a reference book, providing a complete list of the romances edited in the period considered and information about single texts and their manuscript and printed versions. The author offers a picture of the first steps towards the gradual rehabilitation of a genre that had been despised for more than two centuries and its inclusion in the literary canon. Her discussion illuminates several aspects of the transmission and reshaping of the medieval culture in the nineteenth century and constitutes a contribution to the desideratum of a history of medieval studies.