Romancing the Ghost Story: Reading The Romance of Partenay and Sir Launfal as Medieval Ghost Stories



Medieval romance, medieval ghost story, fairy lady, The Romance of Partenay, Sir Launfal


Medieval people were fascinated with the tales that consist of supernatural elements. There are accounts of supernatural events and characters in various medieval works such as ballads, dream-vision poems, hagiographies, and romances. However, among all, ghost stories become prominent with their wide range of supernatural instances and characters. In these stories, the image of the ghost varies from a grotesque or scary one to a desperate or innocent one, presenting the ghost either as a menace or a victim. Although there was not a specific genre of ghost story in the Middle Ages, such stories developed and permitted the exploration of various issues related to death, revenge, punishment, apart from becoming a warning for the living. Medieval ghost stories were adapted to romance literature with the motif of a fairy lady pursuing a knight, or taking the form of an apparition either to help him or to warn him, and her subsequent punishment of the knight if he disregards her. Hence, through the fairy lady motif, medieval romance gained a moralising tone and caught the attention of the noble audience not only as an entertaining story but as a noteworthy warning against the presence of such beings who contact with the living and create unease. Indeed, instead of arousing fear, romances intended to entertain their audience; therefore, the fairy lady motif inspired from ghost stories evokes wonder more than dread. Accordingly, the aim of this article is to explore how the ghostly lady figure in ghost stories, particularly in “The Wife of Edric Wilde”,  is corresponded to romance literature as the fairy lady motif, and used as a literary device with references to The Romance of Partenay and Sir Launfal, and argue that both romances, by focusing on the encounters of the knights with the fairy ladies, can be read as ghost stories, blurring the border between ghost story and romance.


Bradbury, N. M. (2010). Popular romance. In C. J. Saunders (Ed.), A companion to medieval poetry (pp. 289-307). Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Bruckner, M. T. (2000). The shape of romance in medieval France. In R. L. Kruger (Ed.), The Cambridge companion to medieval romance (pp. 13-28). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Boffey, J. (2007). From manuscript to modern text. In P. Brown (Ed.), A companion to medieval English literature: c. 1350-c. 1500 (pp. 107-122). Oxford: Blackwell.

Browne, E. H. (1860). An exposition of the thirty-nine articles: Historical and doctrinal. London: Savill and Edwards.

Fewster, C. (1987). Traditionality and genre in middle English romance. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Field, R. (2009). Popular romance: The material and the problems. In R. Radulescu & C. J. Rushton (Eds.), A Companion to medieval popular romance (pp. 9-30). Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Field, R. (1999). Romance in England, 1066-1400. In D. Wallace (Ed.), The Cambridge history of medieval English literature (pp. 152-176). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Finlayson, J. (1980). Definitions of middle English romance. The Chaucer Review, 15 (1), 43-62.

Frye, N. (1976). The secular scripture: A study of the structure of romance. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Gradon, P. (1971). Form and style in early English fiction. London: Methuen.

Joynes, A. (2006). Medieval ghost stories: An anthology of miracles, marvels and prodigies. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press.

Knöll, S. A., & Oosterwijk, S. (2011). Introduction. In S. A. Knöll & S. Oosterwijk (Eds.), Mixed metaphors: The danse macabre in medieval and early modern Europe (pp. 1-5). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Laskaya, A., & Salisbury, E. (Eds.). (1995). Middle English breton lays. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications.

Liu, Y. (2006). Middle English romance as prototype genre. The Chaucer Review, 40 (4), 335-353.

Ramsey, L. C. (1983). Chivalric romances: Popular literature in medieval England. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Reinhard, J. R. (1941). Setting adrift in mediæval law and literature. PMLA, 56 (1), 33-68.

Reiss, E. (1985). Romance. In T. J. Heffernan (Ed.), The popular literature of medieval England (pp. 108-130). Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

Rooney, K. (2011). Romance macabre: Middle English narrative and the dead in the codex. In S. A. Knöll & S. Oosterwijk (Eds.), Mixed metaphors: The danse macabre in medieval and early modern Europe (pp.191-206). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Schmidt C., & Jacobs, N. (Eds.). (1980). Medieval English romances (Vol. I). London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Schmitt, J. C. (1998). Ghosts in the middle ages: The living and the dead in medieval society. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Skeat, W. W. (Ed.). (1899) ‘The romans of partenay’, or of ‘lusignen’: Otherwise known as ‘the tale of melusine’. EETS o.s., 22. London: Kegan Paul.

Sweeney, M. (2000). Magic in medieval romance from Chrétien de Troyes to Geoffrey Chaucer. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

Wade, J. (2011). Fairies in medieval romance. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Whetter, K. S. (2008). Understanding genre and medieval romance. Aldershot: Ashgate.




How to Cite

Taşdelen, P. (2022). Romancing the Ghost Story: Reading The Romance of Partenay and Sir Launfal as Medieval Ghost Stories. Journal of Narrative and Language Studies, 10(19), 98–108. Retrieved from