The Return to Camelot

by Mark Girouard, Yale, $29.95. Since Mr. Girouard is primarily an architectural historian, his study of “Chivalry and the English Gentleman” probably began with a survey of those phony but often delightful medievalisms erected during the nineteenth century, which in turn led him to wonder why a people prospering on the most modern industrial machinery should have wished to live in imitation antiquities. His investigation of this question leads through Victorian literature, art, manners, ethics, politics, education, and amusements, arriving finally at the Boy Scout movement and at World War I, which put a quick end to the sanitized dream version of Arthur and the Round Table. Reality had always intruded, of course—the Eglinton tournament was rained out with a flurry of anachronistic umbrellas, and Daniel Maclise, having painted Sir Francis Sykes’s family in armor and ermine, eloped with his patron’s lady.
Mr. Girouard’s account of all this high-minded folly is amusingly written, splendidly illustrated, and by no means unsympathetic, for however illogical in origin, many of those Arthurian confections were and remain beautiful objects.