Review: The Chronicle of Clemendy, Arthur Machen, 1888.
This novel was first privately published in 1888 by the Society for Pantegruelists though the text here is based on its 1923 version. As with all three volumes of Arthur Machen’s Collected Fiction, Joshi went with the text preferred by the author.
If you only know Machen through weird fiction tales like “Novel of the White Powder”, “Novel of the White Powder”, or “The Great God Pan”, this novel has an unexpected amount of humor.
Machen the antiquarian and lover of the Middle Ages and its church is on full display here.
Machen attempted a modern version of two famous medieval works, Boccaccio’s The Decameron and Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Like those books, it’s a collection of told stories.
As with Chaucer, the tellers of the nine listed tales are on a pilgrimage of sorts to an annual festival at Gwent in Machen’s native Wales. Most of the stories are told by four people: the Spigot Clerk, Lord Maltworm, the Rubrican, and the Tankard Marshall. Other tales are told by various people they meet.
There is little of the feuding or response of one tale to another that you find in The Canterbury Tales, particularly with its “The Miller’s Tale” and “The Reeve’s Tale”.
The subtitle of the novel is “or, The History of the IX. Joyous Journeys. In which are contained the amorous inventions and facetious tales of Master GERVASE PERROT, Gent., now for the first time into English, by ARTHUR MACHEN, translator of the Hepatameron of Margaret of Navarre.” (Yes, Machen really did translate that book as well as Casanova’s memoirs.)
The story seems to take place sometime between the Fourth Crusade’s taking of Constantinople in 1204 and Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.
Throughout the novel there is a celebration of life, particularly of beer and romantic love. Many of the tales, though not all, have magical elements. Some deal with alchemy or the adventures of knights. Because it is much of a piece of medieval literature and not modern fantastic literature, I’m not going to do a detailed review.
While I didn’t find the plot or stories particularly memorable, it is, as Joshi’s says, a charming work and surprising in tone and length (189 pagees) for an early Machen story.just the general geniality of celebration of life and the Middle Ages in the book.
I would recommend it for those who enjoyed Boccaccio and Chaucer.
The Friends of Arthur Machen says of the book “There are moments when the framed tales strike notes of dark obsession”, but I didn’t notice that myself, but I’ve only read it once.