Matthew Giancarlo

title.none: Galloway, Medieval Literature (Matthew Giancarlo)

identifier.other: baj9928.0803.012 08.03.12

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Matthew Giancarlo, University of Kentucky,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Galloway, Andrew. Medieval Literature and Culture. Introductions to British Literature and Culture. London and New York: Continuum, 2007. Pp. 154. $90.00 (hb) 978-0-826-48656-1 (hb). ISBN: $16.95 (pb) 978-0-8264-8657-6 (pb).

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.03.12

Galloway, Andrew. Medieval Literature and Culture. Introductions to British Literature and Culture. London and New York: Continuum, 2007. Pp. 154. $90.00 (hb) 978-0-826-48656-1 (hb). ISBN: $16.95 (pb) 978-0-8264-8657-6 (pb).

Reviewed by:

Matthew Giancarlo
University of Kentucky

In recent years we have seen the updating of large reference works for medieval literary studies such as the Cambridge History of Medieval English Literature and The Oxford English Literary History, and the "companion industry" continues to flourish unabated, especially for Chaucer. But what options are available for a guide to medieval literature with neither the bulk and cost of a large comprehensive history, nor the topical specificity of, say, The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Drama? Into this niche comes Andrew Galloway's Medieval Literature and Culture, which is part of Continuum's "Introductions to Literature and Culture" series. Texts in this series aim to provide (according to the back cover blurb) "practical guides to key literary periods" including "historical, cultural, literary and critical context," and thus to act as an "initial map of knowledge" for study. As such, the book is a concise and inexpensive vade mecum for the whole range of English literature from the Anglo-Saxon era to the early sixteenth century. It consists of an introduction, three analytical chapters, and a fourth section containing chronologies, a topical glossary, and several bibliographies. While there are problems with the reference materials at the end, Galloway's overviews and analyses in the first three chapters can be warmly recommended as comprehensive, congenial and incisive.

The Introduction lays out some of the familiar historiographical challenges for defining a "medieval" period in literature and history. In the first chapter, "Political, Intellectual and Cultural Contexts," Galloway combines social and political history in a loose three-estates framework. Regnal sequences and major political events from Roman Britain to the Tudors are summarized in a section titled "Rulers and high politics"; clerical foundations, the growth and shifts of literacy, and the broad contexts of church teaching and heterodoxy are summarized under "The clergy and the intellectual world"; and "Those who worked" briefly describes the conditions of the peasantry. Interestingly, the bourgeoisie and non-clerical urban bureaucratic class are nowhere given much attention. The focus is rather on general social groupings, demography, and a quick mention of specific important events.

The second chapter begins with another brief historical overview that aligns specific texts and authors with lingual developments and social communities in the major periods of "Anglo-Saxon," "Anglo-Norman," and "Later Medieval England." Then the bulk of the chapter reviews genres: epic and historical poetry, lyric, prose, romance, saints' lives, "allegory," satire, and drama. Where appropriate these generic categories are also broken down by period (e.g., Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman prose, late medieval saints' lives). Each one is concise and filled with titles and brief treatments of relevant works.

Chapter three concludes the discursive part of the book with a review of "Critical Approaches." The reception and transmission of medieval literature is traced from "The Renaissance to the Eighteenth Century," from "The Nineteenth through the mid-Twentieth Century," and lastly in "Current Issues and Debates" from the 1970s to today. Again the mode is analytical. Galloway divides these periods by periods, distinguishing between the reception-history of Anglo-Saxon writing and later medieval literatures in each subsequent era. The end of this chapter is particularly astute in its judicious assessment of current trends, including the critique of Chaucer's pre-eminence, the decline of philology and source-study in favor of "contextual inquiry and analytical ingenuity" (111), and the current "embarrassment of riches" posed by "the increasingly vast array of available materials" (112) both in printed editions and electronic resources. Indeed Galloway registers something of the vertiginous sense of change many of us feelboth delightful and dauntingwhen he notes that "with astonishing numbers of reproductions of medieval manuscripts available in microfilm, CD-ROM and, increasingly, the Internet (sic), the reasons not to study the works in their 'original' form are disappearing" (112).

As one would expect from the author, the workmanlike inventory of texts and periods is frequently adorned with little gems of insight. Having contrasted two broad strains of English medieval literary productionone alliterative, provincial, and "clerical", the other rhyming, continental, and "lay"-Galloway notes that "the ability of English literature to establish an ethical and dramatic power that relies on no direct clerical uses yet stands above mere adventure and 'rigolage' is the most important 'movement' established by all these later fourteenth-century writers, using alliterative and rhyming forms, in London and the provinces" (63). Elsewhere he suggestively notes that "social satire is always less stable in Christian culture, with its emphasis on personal motives and the question of a writer's sin or grace," and so "it always carries the potential for hypocrisy" (87) that distinguishes it from ostensibly similar generic practice in classical writers like Juvenal or Ovid. The text is leavened with good points such as these, as well as with occasionally chatty bits such as quick accounts of the legend of Harold Godwinson's rescue from pirates by William of Normandy (8), the story of Abelard and Heloïse (43), an account of the abbess Katherine Sutton (88), and descriptions of the anti-Catholic marginalia in Parker's edition of Ælfric (95). Less successful are the few philological points included about language change and pronunciation (56-57), which seem unlikely to be of much help to the book's intended audience.

Unfortunately this accessible and readable text is troubled by apparent irregularities in the concluding study material. In chapter four, "Resources for Independent Study," the book includes a timeline of persons, events, and titles from the fourth to the fifteenth centuries. While it is salutary to see a continuous chronology that does not bifurcate the period at 1066, there are several ambiguities and a few errors. All regnal dates are put in a separate chronology, which has the unintended effect of artificially dividing "historical and cultural events" from political ones. We read, for example, that in 1461 "Henry VI, insane, is deposed" (120), but we have to flip to a separate chronology to see when he reigned; his brief re-accession in 1470-71 is not listed in either place. Some choices seem odd. The "Tremulous Hand" scribe earns an entry and so does Anselm's Cur deus homo, but not Aquinas, Scotus, or Ockham; John Wyclif is entered only for his 1382 condemnation. Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Dante are rightly present, as are Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun; but not Machaut or Deschamps. Jehan Froissart in the text (72) becomes Jean Froissart in the chronology. Abelard's Historia calamitatum is named in Latin but not translated; Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain is translated to English but nowhere named in Latin. Some dates are simply debatable. For example, the romances of Chrétien de Troyes are fairly firmly dateable by internal evidence to 1170-90, but here they are given the capacious half-century 1150-1200. The "first major Viking incursion into England" (115) is dated 865; for students unaware of Viking depredations dating well into the previous century, this may be misleading. The start of the One Hundred Years' War is not listed in order and its conclusion is given as 1456, not the usual date of 1453 for the battle of Castillon. No explanation is given for this discrepancy. Other dates are more problematic. The year 1349 is given for "the first appearance in England of the Black Death" (118). In fact the plague arrived at Dorset in September 1348 and London was infected that same Autumn. The general date "c. 1474" is given for Caxton's Dicts and Sayings of the Philosophers, "first book printed in England" (120). Caxton did not set up his press in Westminster until 1476 and the Dicts was printed, as far as we know, in 1477. Personal dates are also unevenly represented. That old hypochondriac Thomas Hoccleve is made really old: his life span is lengthened to a nonagenerian 1329-1426 (but was likely a more modest c. 1368-1426). John Gower gets short shrifted with one entry (for the Confessio amantis) while John Lydgate gets three for his separate works, but no life span entry. Chaucer and his oeuvre are well represented, but curiously he is only given a death date, not even a speculative birth date. The date for "Chaucer, Canterbury tales" (sic 119) is given as "c. 1390-", even though John Clanvowe was quoting "Palamon and Arcite" (presumably the ur-text of The Knight's Tale) by the mid-1380s. More problematic is the date given for the end of Edward III's reign and the beginning of the reign of Richard II, which is listed as 1378 in both the text and the regnal chronology (29, 130). Edward III died of a stroke on 21 June 1377 and Richard II acceded the next day.

This all may be an exercise in nit-picking, and certainly chronologies for the medieval period are an unavoidably tricky business. Nonetheless, given that this is intended as a student-oriented reference text and "map of knowledge," these discrepancies should probably be repaired prior to a second printing. The "Glossary of Key Terms and Concepts" is also rather idiosyncratic. It is limited to only 30 terms and includes things like "King Arthur," "Satire," and "Viking" while remaining silent on such things such as "Lai," "Villein," "Mystery," or "Exegesis." Lastly there are some notable omissions from the bibliographies. No texts of John Gower's works are listed anywhere, which is an unfortunate exclusion given that the definitive complete edition by Macaulay is neither an EETS nor a TEAMS text. Under "Anglo-Saxon Language textbooks and anthologies" (134) Peter Baker's excellent Introduction to Old English is not mentioned even though the accompanying website is listed as the sole URL for on-line Old English materials (140). Stephen Barney's recent Norton edition of the Troilus and Criseyde is listed, but the other useful Norton student editions of Chaucer (Kolve and Olson's Canterbury Tales and Katherine Lynch's Dream Visions) are not. Similarly the critical bibliography (140-146), capacious as it is, has some notable absences. There is nothing from R. F. Green or Lynn Staley, Strohm's Social Chaucer is not present, popular and student-friendly studies by Pearsall, Spearing, Mann, and others are not found. Nor is this just sour grapes about recent scholarship, given the book's plethora of references to older work. While all of the books and resources mentioned in the main part of the text are listed, there appears to have been less effort to make the critical bibliography comprehensive.

Such complaints, however, do little to lessen the value of the book's primary sections. Suffice it to say that Dr. Galloway has produced a capacious and cogent overview in the first three chapters, one that can be strongly recommended to anyone needing a concise, accurate, and well organized summary of the literature and culture of medieval England. The reference material in the last chapter should be approached with care.