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narration, Béroul, narrator


Some years ago, I suggested that the irony and the pervasive equivocations that characterize the text of Béroul's Tristan have the effect of precluding, on the narrator's part, an implicit ethical endorsement of the characters. Although that is still my view, I went on, perhaps too incautiously, to question Béroul's narrative reliability. Considering the importance of such matters for our understanding of Béroul's art, it is not inappropriate to reconsider this problem. In fact, I think it reasonable now to begin with the assertion that, although his work is full of ambiguities, ironies, and tricks, Béroul's narrator never deceives his readers. The reliability of signs and persons within his work – but not that of the narrator himself – is open to question. We may not be able to trust his characters, but we can trust him. If the definition of narrative postures in the Tristan is more difficult than it may appear at first reading, one explanation is that the irony located within the narrative is strong enough to contaminate our perception of the narration. A re-examination of the subject will require a discussion of both theme and technique, of distance created within the text and of distance – or the lack of it – separating the narrator from his text and reader.