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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

As Lancelot frequently discovered


did know) the early and unwitting incest of the King and his half-sister Margause; but the extreme ease with which he adopted her own treacherous foster-sister, the "false Guinevere," and his proceedings with the Saxon enchantress Camilla, were very strong "sets off" to her own conduct. Also she had a most disagreeable[37] sister-in-law in Morgane-la-Fee. These are not in the least offered as excuses, but merely as "lights." Indeed Guinevere never seems to have hated or disliked her husband, though he often gave her cause; and if, until the great repentance, she thought more lightly of "spouse-breach" than Lancelot did, that is not uncharacteristic of women.[38] In fact, she is a very perfect (not of course in the moral sense) gentlewoman. She is at once popular with the knights, and loses that popularity rather by Lancelot's fault than by her own, while Gawain, who remains faithful to her to the bitter end, or at least till the luckless slaughter of his brethren, declares at the beginning that she is the fairest and most gracious, and will be the wisest and best of queens. She shows something very like humour in the famous and fateful remark (uttered, it would seem, without the slightest ill or double meaning at the time) as to Gawain's estimate of Lancelot.[39] She seems to have had an agreeable petulance (notice, for instance, the rebuke of Kay at the opening of the _Ywain_ story and elsewhere), which sometimes, as it naturally would, rises to passionate injustice, as Lancelot frequently discovered. She is, in fact, always passionate in one or other sense of that great and terrible and infinite[40] word, but never tragedy-queenish or vixenish. She falls in love with Lancelot because he falls in love with her, and because she cannot help it. False as she is to husband and to lover, to her court and her country,[41] it can hardly be said that any act of hers, except the love itself and its irresistible consequences, is faulty. She is not capricious, extravagant, or tyrannical; in her very jealousy she is not cruel or revengeful (the original Iseult would certainly have had Elaine poisoned or poniarded, for which there was ample opportunity). If she torments her lover, that is because she loves him. If she is unjust to him, that is because she is a woman. Her last speech to Lancelot after the catastrophe--Tennyson should have, as has been said, paraphrased this as he paraphrased the passing of her husband, and from the same texts, and we should then have had another of the greatest things of English poetry--shows a noble nature with the [Greek: hamartia] present, but repented in a strange and great mixture of classical and Christian tragedy. There is little told in a trustworthy fashion about her personal appearance. But if Glastonbury traditions about her bones be true, she was certainly (again like Helen) "divinely tall." And if the suggestions of Hawker's "Queen Gwennyvar's Round"[42] in the sea round Tintagel be worked out a little, it will follow that her eyes were divinely blue.

[Sidenote: Some minor points.]

When such very


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