By Geraldine Heng
Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, Vol. 10 (1998)
Introduction: Almost nine hundred years ago, between 1130 and 1139, the legend of King Arthur erupted for the first time in full literary form in England, elaborated out of obscure hints and sketchy entries in written history and Celtic legendary tradition by Geoffrey of Monmouth in an infamous, celebrated chronicle-history, the Historia Regum Britanniae, or History of the Kings of Britain. Geoffrey’s Historia was simultaneously celebrated and infamous, in part, because it status as history was called into question, then as now, by the pervasive aura that the Historia contrived of the fantastical, an aura more usually associated with the medieval literary genre known as romance than with historical writing. Although the separation of genres distinguishing the narration of history from the narration of spectacular fiction was less secure in the twelfth century than today (if such separation is secure today), conventions of historical writing had nonetheless been sufficiently rehearsed by the twelfth century for historians among Geoffrey’s near contemporaries to respond with “ambivalence,” admiration, and outrage at the Historia’s bold-faced inventions.