The Once and Future Queen: Guinevere in Arthurian Legend

Written by Nicole Evelina
Review by Ray Thompson

This is a survey of the treatment of Guinevere, King Arthur’s queen, as she appears in literature from the earliest references in the Welsh Triads to current fiction, though the focus narrows as material becomes more plentiful: drama and film are excluded, as is poetry after the 19th century. The author quotes extensively from scholars and critics, presenting different opinions, but her own critical focus is upon what Guinevere’s treatment reveals about prevailing social attitudes towards women through the ages. Since she concentrates upon works where the queen is the central figure, including her own fiction, interesting treatments by authors like Bernard Cornwell and Thomas Berger are ignored.

Evelina argues convincingly that Guinevere is a victim of patriarchal attitudes towards women in earlier eras and that it is not until the 1980s that she becomes, in the hands of female authors primarily, a more heroic figure in her own right, reflecting the influence of the feminist movement. Given her long tradition, however, rehabilitation is not easy. This is a useful survey for those interested in this complex figure.