Karen Sullivan ’86, professor of romance culture and literature at Bard College, was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to support her research on Arthurian romance in the Middle Ages.
Sullivan’s current project, The Danger of Romance, will focus on the clash between the historical and religious authors who rejected Arthurian romance during this time and the literary authors who embraced the genre.
From the Guggenheim website description of Sullivan’s project:
During the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, when the tales of King Arthur, Lancelot of the Lake, and the Holy Grail were first composed, clerics like William of Newburgh, Aelred of Rievaulx, and Caesarius of Heisterbach criticized this literature for encouraging readers to reject reality in favor of fantasy, truth in favor of fiction, and, by extension, actual, ordinary life in favor of an imagined, extraordinary existence. These clerics viewed romances as lies, pleasant, but profitless, which distracted readers from the harsh but profitable truths of Holy Scripture. During these same centuries, however, the authors of Arthurian romance implicitly defended their works against these attacks. To claim that reality is necessarily limited to the conventions of realism, such as mediocre characters, tepid emotions, and everyday events, they maintained, is to impoverish the very notion of reality by denying that there can ever be heroes and heroines, passionate love, and marvelous occurrences. If their romances are as pleasant as they are, these authors insisted, it is because they tell, not lies, but truths, though truths happier than those other texts choose to recognize. By setting into dialogue the historical and religious texts which criticized romance and the literary texts themselves, Professor Sullivan shows how Arthurian romance makes a case for the truth value of its fictions and, in doing so, makes a case for the truth value of imaginative literature in general.
Sullivan is also the author of The Interrogation of Joan of Arc (1999), Truth and the Heretic: Crises of Knowledge in Medieval French Literature (2005), and The Inner Lives of Medieval Inquisitors (2011).
Guggenheim Fellowships are grants to selected individuals made for a minimum of six months and a maximum of twelve months. Since the purpose of the Guggenheim Fellowship program is to help provide Fellows with blocks of time in which they can work with as much creative freedom as possible, grants are made freely. No special conditions attach to them, and Fellows may spend their grant funds in any manner they deem necessary to their work.