Edwin Erle Sparks Professor Emeritus
of French and Medieval Studies
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802-6203


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For those who may, for whatever reason, be interested but whose eyes may glaze over at the sight of the detailed information below, here is the condensed version:

In 2012, after a fulltime teaching and research career spanning 47 years, I retired from Penn State University, where since 1998 I had held the position of Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of French and Medieval Studies. I had previously taught at Indiana University, the University of Kansas, UCLA in a visiting position, and Washington University in St. Louis. I am a medievalist, with a  primary specialty in the Arthurian legend. My published books, authored or edited, number about thirty (details given below and on the cv indicated above); the majority of them treat Arthurian subjects. I have also published some 150 articles and have presented the same number of papers at professional conferences.

I have taught at all levels, from freshman language courses through doctoral seminars. My advanced courses in French, Comparative Literature, and Medieval Studies have been heavily concentrated on Arthurian subjects in various languages but have often treated other subjects, such as medieval epic and Old French fabliaux. I have directed twenty Ph.D. dissertations and co-directed three others.

In 1988, I was knighted by the French government in the Ordre des Palmes Académiques. Shortly before that, I served a three-year term as International President of the International Arthurian Society, and I was later elected President of the North American Branch of the IAS. In 2014 the North American Branch of that organization presented me an “Award for Lifetime Service to Arthurian Studies.” I am very grateful for two volumes published in my honor and for a scholarly prize named for me. Again, details are below.

Since retirement, I have largely curtailed my research and writing, though I continue to direct two monograph series and serve on several editorial boards. Now I spend most of my time on art (photography and digital painting at present) and on music, playing saxophone in both jazz and concert bands.


FULL VERSION (for masochists):

A medievalist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University, I have held fulltime academic positions at Indiana, The University of Kansas, UCLA (visiting), and Washington University in St. Louis. I also served as department chair at Kansas (French and Italian) and at Washington University (Romance Languages and Literatures) for a total of fourteen years. In 1998 I accepted appointment at Penn State University as the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of French; the "Medieval Studies" title was added in 2002. I retired 30 June 2012, at midnight.

My research and teaching focus principally on the Arthurian legend (medieval and modern) and on medieval narrative fiction, especially romance and fabliau. In the area of Arthurian studies I have written The Craft of Chrétien de Troyes, co-authored The Arthurian Handbook, edited The Arthurian Encyclopedia (and its successor, imaginatively titled The New Arthurian Encyclopedia), and edited and translated the Tristan of Béroul. I also directed a five-volume translation of the Old French Vulgate (or Lancelot-Grail) and Post-Vulgate Cycles of Arthurian romance, providing the translation of one of the romances, La Mort Artu; this set, lightly revised, was later reissued in ten paperback volumes.

In addition, I have edited or co-edited a number of other Arthurian volumes. They include A Companion to Chrétien de Troyes; The Fortunes of King Arthur; A History of Arthurian Scholarship; The Legacy of Chrétien de Troyes; Medieval Arthurian Literature: A Guide to Recent Research; Perceval/Parzival: A Casebook; The Grail, the Quest, and the World of Arthur; The Lancelot-Grail Reader; From Camelot to Joyous Guard; the third, revised, edition of The Romance of Arthur; and a half-dozen collections of essays on Arthurian and other subjects. I also ventured briefly into Arthurian fiction with A Camelot Triptych. The majority of my articles and papers have also treated Arthurian subjects; most of those are on medieval French literature, but some deal with other medieval literatures (e.g., Dutch, Norse, and English) and with modern literature (French, English, and American) as well as film.

My non-Arthurian volumes include a book titled Reading Fabliaux, a co-edited volume on The Old French Fabliaux: Essays on Comedy and Context, and three critical editions: 26 chansons d'amour de la Renaissance (a collection of sixteenth-century French chansons populaires); a "modern medieval" romance (that is, a nineteenth- or twentieth-century counterfeit) titled L'Istoyre de Jehan Coquault ; and Les Voeux du heron, a fictionalized medieval account of the genesis of the Hundred Years War.

In the classroom, my experience includes both the full range of undergraduate French courses (language, literature, and civilization) and a wide variety of graduate offerings. Among the latter are From Arthur to the Grail, Chansons de geste, Medieval Romance, Epic and Romance, Fabliaux, The Literature of Courtly Love, Medieval Lyric, Medieval Parody and Irony, the poetry of François Villon, Problems of Genre in Medieval Literature, The Medieval Literary Arts, Paris in the Middle Ages, The Tristan Legend, The Generation of 1165-1190, Textual Criticism and Editing, Old French, History of the French Language, Introduction to Graduate Studies, Literary Criticism, and literature of the French Renaissance.

My Arthurian seminars, in French and Comparative Literature, have treated major medieval authors, texts, and themes (e.g., Chrétien de Troyes, the Vulgate Cycle, Grail Literature, the Tristan legend, Quests and Tests in Arthurian Literature). I have also offered comparative courses that deal with the entire spectrum of Arthuriana from archaeology and chronicles to literature, painting, music, film, the decorative arts, and popular culture.

I have been the usually embarrassed but always gratified recipient of several honors over the years. Among them are a knighthood in France's Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Chevalier, 1988; elevated to the rank of Officier, 2003); my election as International President (1984-87), then as President of the North American Branch (1991-94), of the International Arthurian Society; and the decision of the editors of the journal Arthuriana (soon joined by the North American Branch of the IAS) to name a scholarly prize for me. In 2014 I was further embarrassed, but very happy, to receive an “Award for Lifetime Service to Arthurian Studies,” created especially for me by the North American Branch of the IAS.

Two publications in my honor have pleased me immensely. The first, in May 2000, was "Por le soie amisté": Essays in Honor of Norris J. Lacy (ed. Keith Busby and Catherine M. Jones), a volume of articles by colleagues in eight countries. And in Summer 2008, the journal Arthuriana published an issue (described as a "Lagniappe Festschrift") dedicated to me; it was edited by two of my former graduate students (Kristin L. Burr and David S. King) and featured articles by them and by several more of my former students at Washington University and at Penn State.

Since retirement, I have largely curtailed my research and writing, though I continue to direct two monograph series and serve on several editorial boards. At present, much of my time is spent on art (mainly, for now, photography and digital painting, though I had earlier done some acrylics and collages) and on music. I exhibit art regularly and sell some or win a small award on occasion; I am also a docent at an area art museum. Concerning music: from the time I began graduate study, I had no direct involvement in music other than a few years playing recorder and krumhorn in an early-music consort. Then, following retirement, I returned after a hiatus of exactly a half-century to what had financed my undergraduate education: the saxophone. I was rusty: fifty years off will do that to a person! After a couple of months of practice, I was invited to play my first gig, with a band (called “Hounds of Soul”) that played Motown, soul, and funk. I am now playing regularly–on alto, tenor, and/or baritone sax–with two local jazz/swing bands and periodically subbing with yet another. I am also the baritone saxophonist with our municipal concert band, and I am one-third of a trio called Triple Play, consisting of tenor sax, keyboard, and upright bass.

Finally, but by no means least, I am a lover of cats, books, jazz, tropical beaches, and good food.



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