Peak Lancelot

Peak Lancelot

Good news! I just submitted the online copy of my coursework for my French paper, so now all I need to do is drop off the printed copies, which I’m going to do on my way to lectures this afternoon. This means I’m a day ahead of deadline — I was totally paranoid about oversleeping and missing the noon cut-off, because let’s face it, I would do that, so I decided to get it over with. Plus, it means that depending on pain, I might be able to go to ceilidh band this evening. Mostly, I’m just glad that it’s over. I honestly think the stress of getting this done has taken years off my life.

It has not, however, been a smooth journey.

For those who aren’t aware, this essay is my only coursework option (unless you count the dissertation), because everything else at Cambridge is based entirely on the exam at the end of the year. I have to write two ‘long’ essays (4,000 words, which is almost impossibly short when it’s worth 50% of your grade): one theoretically over Christmas, and one over Easter, although my last-minute approach means it was more mid-January than over Christmas. I did this last year, even submitting the first of the two essays, before taking time out — it’s one of the things I regret, that the essay I wrote last year didn’t end up counting for anything at all. Sigh.

My medieval French paper is a ‘borrowed’ paper from the Modern & Medieval Languages (MML) department, rather than part of the ASNaC course itself. Its full name is Love, Violence and Power in France, 1100-1500, and we look at a lot of ideas like courtly love, racial and social divides, the concept of the ‘other’, and so on. Because I’m an ASNaC and my supervision partners (another difference — ASNaC supervisions are all solo, whereas these are in pairs or, in my case, in a group of three) are too, I think we ended up focusing disproportionately on the stuff that was closest to our other interests — the matiere de Bretagne, which deals with the legendary history of Britain and Brittany and tends to be sort of semi-historical, largely fictional, and often involves dubious adoption laws. Aka the Arthurian material.

(Seriously, the Lady of the Lake straight up steals Lancelot when he’s a baby and his mum’s in mourning for his dad. Like, just picks him up and jumps in a lake with him, and his mum has no idea if he’s even alive or  not. Yet nobody seems bothered by this. I have questions.)

We’ve looked at Chretien de Troyes, who in many ways invented Arthurian romance, and I ended up doing this particular long essay on a combination of Chretien de Troyes Le Chevalier de la Charrete and one of the early non-cyclical prose texts about Lancelot, Lancelot do Lac. I toyed with going all cyclical on it, getting some Grail on, which is part of where the bumps came in.

See, I got myself a bit confused about what actually counted as part of the Lancelot-Grail Cycle and what didn’t, and originally that was what I was writing about. However, I got to a fairly late stage in the process when I realised that quotes I thought were from Queste del saint graal were actually from Mort le roi Artu, and quotes I thought were from Mort were actually from the Lancelot propre, and since my essay’s argument had kind of depended on them being from the right section, it all fell apart.

And then I couldn’t find an adequate edition of the Old French from which to take quotes (I’m not good enough at the language to read in the original, so I read in translation and then pick out the quotes individually when analysing), because it’s a huge messy cycle, but I could find a rather nice edition of Lancelot do Lac — which is not the same thing as the Lancelot from the Cycle, but which I had already read, thinking they were at least similar. But it didn’t have a facing translation and sometimes it’s hard to find the right quote in Old French, so I had to also get a copy of Lancelot du Lac, the translation into modern French, which was a facing translation, so that in times of doubt I could look at that as well and see if it helped.

And this is how we reached peak Lancelot

So, with only a few days to go before the deadline, I realised I needed to rewrite my Lancelot-Grail section and make it a Lancelot do Lac section. Which was a fairly major shift, because my argument didn’t carry over at all — they’re very different in their approaches to adultery, which is what I was writing about. I wasn’t as upset as I might have been, though. I was already way over the wordcount limit of 4,000 words, which they’re super strict about enforcing, and hadn’t finished filling in the gaps in my essay — I was going to have to do some major edits, and I felt like that part of the essay was a mess.

I think my second attempt at writing it was easier: on Tuesday I did about four and a half hours of work, which consisted of reading the whole of Lancelot of the Lake again, picking out all the quotes I needed, finding the equivalent French quotes, and writing out what my main argument was going to be. (I’m a fast reader, which is just as well because five hours of work a day is about the limit of what I can manage without Major Pain reporting for duty.) Then I figured I’d go to bed and write the actual essay in the morning, but my brain had other ideas and wouldn’t let me rest, so at 3am I got up and bashed out about a thousand words without looking at my notes, hoping that would stop it going round and round in my head.

Joke’s on me, because that 3am hurried-and-unreferenced part of the essay was, once I put the quotes in, the most coherent part of it. So that’s embarrassing.

Once I had a tolerable essay, I printed it out — discovering in the process that my printer was out of ink and I’d have to use the library one until the new cartridges arrived — and scribbled all over it in red pen, which included cutting a Hozier joke that I was kind of proud of but which I couldn’t really leave in at this point, let’s be real.

Some advice applies just as much to essays as to novels.

Then I wrote up all the edits. Then I got distracted by the realisation that I could have written a much, much queerer essay in answer to this question and maybe focused on Bisclavret who is my precious gay werewolf child, and it would have been both more fun and more original, which caused some doldrums of despair for a while. Then I got distracted by the Nietzsche / Call Me Maybe parody that I first heard quite a long time ago, and then I got even further distracted by the realisation that the person who wrote it is a YA author whose book I have as an ARC and was already psyched to read, so now I’m even more excited because clearly she’s a major talent.

Then I went back to writing up the edits. Then I spent a few hours in referencing hell. Then I proofread, and proofread, and reworded, and proofread, and referenced, and had a fight with Microsoft Word about formatting, and went to the library at midnight in my pyjamas to print it.

It came out kind of grey. I’m really hoping that doesn’t matter, because I don’t know why and I don’t want to spend more money on printing if it’s only going to do the same thing.

I tried to submit the online copy last night, but the page I got was blank, so I had to email and ask what was up with that. The response I got this morning was that I’d been enrolled in the course as an ‘observer’ rather than a ‘student’, which seemed a little bit weird, but they’ve fixed it. So I submitted it and that went through.

Long story short, it’s done, it’s over, so I’m going to take it a little bit easy for today, do some dissertation work tomorrow, and take the weekend off because it’s my birthday.

Also I think it’s going to be a while before I can stand to hear any mention of Lancelot.

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