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 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 I was the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of French and Medieval Studies. I had previously taught at Indiana University (where I received my Ph.D. in 1967), 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 over 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. In 2014 the North American Branch of that organization presented me an “Award for Lifetime Service to Arthurian Studies.” I am no less grateful for two publications in my honor and for a scholarly prize named for me. Again, details are below.

Now retired, I continue to write and speak at conferences, but I now spend most of my time on art (photography and digital painting at present) and on music, playing saxophone in several bands.



A medievalist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University, I have held previous 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 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, 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 (mostly) Arthurian 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 and Norse) 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, 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, Renaissance Literature, and Medieval Comedy, Parody, and Irony.

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, 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 embarrassed but nonetheless very gratified recipient of several honors over the years. Among them are a knighthood in France's Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Chevalier, 1988; elevated to Officier, 2003); my election as International President (1984-87; then as Honorary President) 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.

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 collection of articles by colleagues in eight countries. And in Summer 2008, Arthuriana published an issue (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.

In 2014 I was surprised by an “Award for Lifetime Service to Arthurian Studies,” created specifically for me by the North American Branch of the International Arthurian Society.

Since retirement, I am continuing to write, though at a more leisurely pace. Now much of my time is spent on art (mainly, for now, photography and digital painting) and on music. I exhibit art regularly and sell some or win a small award on occasion. Concerning music: following retirement, I returned after exactly fifty years to what had financed my undergraduate education: the saxophone. After a couple of months of practice, I played my first gig, with a band that played Motown, soul, and funk. I am now playing regularly with one local jazz band (on alto sax) and periodically with another one (on tenor and baritone). 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 bass.

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

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