Sarah Clinch Dr. Bussell ENG 460D 25 March 2010 There's No

Sarah Clinch
Dr. Bussell
ENG 460D
25 March 2010
There’s No Place Like Home… For Perceval
Sir Perceval’s Questing within Chretien de Troyes’ epic Arthurian tale Perceval: The
Story of the Grail leads him to many locations, from which he either gains glory, or suffers pain
and loss; however, as he makes his way through the various chivalric tasks, Perceval learns and
grows, from the young and ignorant child into “the finest knight in all the world” (Chretien 202).
Within this evolution he undergoes, Perceval struggles to overcome many obstacles in his way;
one such obstacle is the death of his mother, and whether Perceval’s actions caused her death.
Her death also lost Perceval his home, and starts him on his wanderings and his pursuit for glory.
Along his journey, Perceval twice visits the castle of Beaurepaire, where he meets his love
Blancheflor. Perceval’s actions upon his first visit to the castle earn him the lordship of
Beaurepaire, and therefore a new home, as well as Blancheflor’s undying love. This castle and its
inhabitants undergoes its own transformation between Perceval’s initial influence and accidental
return; however, upon looking at Perceval’s influence upon the people and landscape of
Beaurepaire, its future remains bleak. Because of the knight’s unswerving devotion to his Quest
for glory, Perceval may have aided Beaurepaire in the short term, but his Midas’ Touch will
indeed tarnish should he never return to the castle and his lady, his home.
Perceval’s initial stay at Beaurepaire includes imagery of a wasted castle, dying people,
and wilting landscape; because of Clamadeus’ aggressive tactics to convince Blancheflor to
become his, the castle’s conditions strike Perceval (and Chretien’s audience) as despondent and
needing chivalric aid. Though he does defeat Clamadeus in battle, Perceval’s intentions lack true
chivalry: he acts not for Blancheflor’s honor, but for his own through upholding hers. Perceval’s
success allows him to transcend his mother’s tangential hold on him and his learning curve as a
knight (which she has held since his departure from her); yet, giving Perceval the reins, and
allowing him to grow out of his mother’s influence may not precipitate the best end: once he
“[conquers] and [slays] Blancheflor’s oppressor, he will claim the soreplus, promising to make
her his drue, not his wife” (Levy 858); clearly, through his actions, Perceval’s intentions lack
chivalric honesty and integrity. While Perceval may not act upon true good, unselfish objectives,
his success cleanses Beaurepaire of its Wasteland characteristics, healing the wounds caused by
Clamadeus, and setting up his future home for when he is ready to claim it. Beaurepaire exists as
a possible happy ending for Perceval; because he fails to see its potential, however, he never
reaches a point wherein he can settle and live his life in one place. Perceval’s plague, his
character flaw, is not one common to epic heroes; rather, he suffers from loss of home, family,
and love, and so his flaw rests in his attempts to fill this void with Quest, rather than true
substitutions, such as Beaurepaire offers.
The ruins of Beaurepaire, from Perceval’s first visit, represent what R. Howard Bloch
describes as the “Arthurian Wasteland,” which is “always geographically situated; it is a
landscape and a relation of men to their environment that is characterized by depopulation, the
infertility of nature, the failure of agriculture, and a crisis of kingship and of political order”
(Bloch 257). This Arthurian Wasteland within Beaurepaire is unique, in that the cause of this
wasted land stems from act of human hand: Clamadeus starves out Beaurepaire in hopes of
winning Blancheflor’s hand (Chretien 24). It stands to reason that what occurs by work of human
action must be overturned by similar actions, and so Perceval’s defeat of Clamadeus paves the
way for Beaurepaire’s healing; however, Perceval’s actions alone are not enough to save the
people. The state of the castle and its surrounding landscape is such that without an act of God,
the people would starve before they could grow crops or travel to find aid; so, “by God’s will”
(30), through a device commonly known as deus ex machina, “a mighty wind had driven a vessel
across the sea with a great cargo of wheat and other supplies on board” (30). This event brings
up two interesting points: firstly, that Perceval clearly is merely human, and while he has the
power to save Beaurepaire from destruction by human hand, he does not have the ability to turn
back time quickly enough to save a people from starvation and natural depletion of resources.
Secondly, Perceval’s twisted and insincere chivalric intentions may have managed to win out
over Clamadeus’ dark and aggressive intentions; however, the deus ex machina event serves to
prove that the knight’s selfish desires only help Beaurepaire ward off human attack, and that
Beaurepaire requires something of more divine weight and true goodness to aid the healing
As Perceval gallantly returns from his victorious defeat of Clamadeus, his actions start to
become tangible: the dominoes begin to fall, culminating eventually into the bountiful and
fulfilling home he has (unknowingly) created for himself. As mentioned above, the “theme of the
Wasteland is also synonymous with a crisis of kingship and of general social order” (Bloch 260),
and because Perceval has set up his future home, and impending Lordship, through defeating the
antagonistic Clamadeus, Perceval has in effect overcome the Wasteland and sought to correct
this “crisis of kingship and of general social order” (260), creating his own opportunity to fulfill
the void of authority within Beaurepaire. The problem, however, lies in his intentions: Perceval
clearly desires his Quest, and while his next step once he takes his leave of Beaurepaire lies in
finding his home, for “his heart was fixed on his mother whom he had seen faint and fall, and he
longed more than anything else to go and see her” (Chretien 34), what he finds leads him toward
a quest for Quest. Upon discovering that he caused his mother’s death and therefore
inadvertently destroyed his home, Perceval becomes a Wanderer, intent upon nothing except
distracting himself through Questing from his lack of a true home.
Upon returning to Beaurepaire, and seeing the blossoming landscape he encouraged
through his (albeit selfish) actions, Perceval learns that he has inherited the Lordship over the
land, and has earned Blancheflor’s unconditional fidelity, and therefore has found a home for
himself (Chretien 160). While these gifts entice Perceval, and unlock his long-dormant and
suppressed desires for roots and a home, the nature of his life, the eternal pursuit of Quest, has
buried itself deep within his being, to where he cannot escape his adventuring. While he explains
to Blancheflor that he must finish the Quest he paused when he happened upon Beaurepaire, “for
[he’s] undertaken a journey that [he] wouldn’t give up for all the wealth in Friesland” (Chretien
160), his true dilemma lies in the fact that “wandering itself is without end” (Mela 267). By
creating this elaborate distraction for himself, Perceval has in fact adopted an ethos which, while
it leads him toward greatness, leads him also toward unhappiness and dissatisfaction. As
wandering has become a part of Perceval’s nature, it thus follows that the dichotomy of what he
wants to be and what he is materializes in his decision over whether to remain with Blancheflor
at Beaurepaire, or to continue his Quest. Truly, “to remain with Blancheflor would be to lose
himself, but to pursue his wandering would be to lose her” (Mela 267). Whether Perceval’s
learning curve can extend from growing out of his mother’s grasp to growing out of his own
created character confines relies upon his strength of self; however, from his decision to leave
Beaurepaire and continue on in his Quest, this strength of self remains questionable. Perceval
remains true to himself and his character with this decision; however, “from now on, the hero,
dispossessed of his self by the hostess’ grace, should no longer remain in one pace in order not to
belie the experience of desire which he now recognized” (267). Perceval’s most interesting
quality by far is this struggle he suffers: whether to follow his character as a wanderer and knight
(perpetual Quester), or his heart’s desire for home and stability.
Perceval’s dedication to his Quest suggests the marriage, of sorts, that a knight has to his
Quest and duties of chivalry. In viewing the Quest-as-wife scenario, Perceval’s decisions to
leave Beaurepaire clearly stem from his fidelity to his present marriage. Though Perceval earned
the rights to Blancheflor by conquering Clamadeus in his first visit to Beaurepaire, as explained
by Kathryn Gravdal in her article “Chretien de Troyes, Gratian, and the Medieval Romance of
Sexual Violence” when she quotes the “country’s rape law”: “if some knight desires [a damsel],
is willing to take up his weapons and fight for her in battle, and conquers her, he can without
shame or blame do with her as he will” (582 emphasis Gravdal’s), he cannot as yet follow
through by marrying her and claiming Beaurepaire, because he must remain faithful to his
current marriage to his Quest. Only when his Wandering is successfully concluded, and his
Questing fulfilled, can be become a Widower of his Quest and thereby seek out a new marriage
with Blancheflor at Beaurepaire. Whether his Quest will ever end remains uncertain, as
wandering by its very nature lacks a true purpose save for the sake of wandering itself;
Perceval’s ethos prevents him from settling down with a wife, a home, and lordship over the
people at Beaurepaire.
Perceval struggles with the age-old problem of wanting to be something he inherently
cannot: wanting home yet unable to escape his wanderer nature; and his return to Beaurepaire
highlights Perceval’s inability to change his nature. His first trip to Beaurepaire serves to exhibit
Perceval’s “Midas’ Touch,” in which everything he Quests after turns golden; however, with
every Midas’ Touch comes great sorrow when things turn sour. Because Perceval’s intentions
were for his own glory, rather than in upholding Blancheflor’s honor, the evolution of
Beaurepaire cannot be said to be entirely from Perceval’s actions: clearly, “by God’s will”
(Chretien 30) Beaurepaire’s people were saved. Perceval’s Wanderer nature and his obsessive
search for Quest also highlights his desire for a home he can never have: during his first visit to
Beaurepaire, his Quest was Beaurepaire (in defeating Clamadeus and halting the destruction of
the people and landscape); however, his second visit was accidental, and so his focus was on the
Quest-on-hiatus, and not on Beaurepaire. Because his intentions were obviously on leaving
Beaurepaire, the Midas’ Touch that his focus gave Beaurepaire initially now will tarnish and
fade, due to Blancheflor’s undying loyalty and love for her knight: “I waited for you from then
till now, however long that is, and I shall wait again, whether it hurts me or not; for I’d rather
suffer agony, and have my heart made dark and sad, then go against your will” (160). Because
Blancheflor is unwilling to “take a husband if it meant being untrue to [Perceval]” (159), the
Lord-less estate will undoubtedly wither back into the Arthurian Wasteland it was when
Clamadeus surrounded the castle. While Perceval’s wanderings distract him from the home he
truly desires, his home on the road, and marriage to the Quest, slowly destroys the home and
marriage he lusts for. This paradox Perceval finds himself in proves the tortuous and tortured
nature of the knight in Chretien’s epic grail quest.
Works Cited
Bloch, R. Howard. “Wasteland and Round Table: The Historical Significance of Myths of
Dearth and Plenty in Old French Romance.” New Literary History 11.2 (1980): 255-276.
Web. 19 Mar 2010.
De Troyes, Chretien. Perceval: The Story of the Grail. Trans. Nigel Bryant. Cambridge: D.S.
Brewer, 1982. Print.
Graydal, Kathryn. ”Chretien de Troyes, Gratian, and the Medieval Romance of Sexual
Violence.” Signs 17.3 (1992): 558-585. Web. 19 Mar 2010.
Levy, Raphael. “The Motivation of Perceval and the Authorship of Philomena.” PMLA 71.4
(1956): 853-862. Web. 19 Mar 2010.
Mela, Charles and Catherine Lowe. “Perceval.” Yale French Studies No. 55/56 (1977): 253-279.
Web. 19 Mar 2010.