Christopher Callahan

title.none: Taylor, The Making of Poetry (Christopher Callahan)

identifier.other: baj9928.0803.022 08.03.22

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Christopher Callahan, Illinois Wesleyan University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Taylor, Jane H.M. The Making of Poetry: Late-Medieval French Poetic Anthologies. Texts and Transitions, v. 1. Turnhout: Brepols, 2007. Pp. xvi, 310. $84 $84 978-2-503-52072-8. ISBN: 978-2-503-52072-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.03.22

Taylor, Jane H.M. The Making of Poetry: Late-Medieval French Poetic Anthologies. Texts and Transitions, v. 1. Turnhout: Brepols, 2007. Pp. xvi, 310. $84 $84 978-2-503-52072-8. ISBN: 978-2-503-52072-8.

Reviewed by:

Christopher Callahan
Illinois Wesleyan University

It has become a commonplace to consider late-medieval lyric poetry as a social phenomenon. Diegetic portraits of poetic competitions such as Le Pastoralet (ed. Blanchard, 1983) or La Cour amoureuse dite de Charles VI (ed. Bozzolo and Loyau, 1982-92) offer a significant counterbalance to the effortless lyric-making characterized in romances such as Froissart's Meliador and as such reveal a great deal about the institutions and culture of poetry in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. But these sources fail to explicate for the modern reader the bewildering density, apparent randomness, and numbing repetitiveness of the verses featured in many poetic anthologies from this period. What Jane Taylor accomplishes in this significant and fascinating volume is to peel back the layers of several fifteenth and sixteenth century anthologies to focus on the inherent dialogism of their contents and, by revealing something of the dynamics of their construction, invites us to appreciate them in new and different ways.

Adapting the work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to the courtly milieu of the late French Middle Ages and working within the current perspective valorizing manuscript context, Taylor builds on her ground-breaking study of François Villon (2001), in which she argued convincingly that poetic drive in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries derived from what she termed "a poetics of engagement." [1] Rejecting both Romantic notions of originality and poetic self-exploration which, Taylor argued, have misguided readers of ballades and rondeaux for far too long, and Deridian models of a hermetic voice consumed by form to the exclusion of content, she situated poetic composition in late-medieval France squarely in a "participatory culture of mutually reinforcing rhetorics." [2]

As she extends her thesis--which regarded Villon as a poet in the "intertextual mainstream...engaged competitively with the work of his contemporaries and predecessors" [3]--from the work of a single writer to the greater poetic collective, Taylor applies the same insights and rigorous analysis to a series of manuscripts. What she perceives as operating in the climate of intertextual dialectics which animated the late-medieval courts is what Bourdieu has termed "cultural capital." In Bourdieuian terms, poetry is a both a component and a product of a network of social relations. The poet as a locus of that network can be considered a commodity in that his/her skills are what knit those relationships together while poems are the primary commodity that earn the poet favor and gain. In guiding her readers to understand these manuscripts as poetic events, Taylor insists on the need to read each poem associatively rather than in isolation. This, she argues convincingly, is essential to grasping the meaning of both the collections and their contents.

The work is composed of four chapters framed by an introduction and a conclusion. Each chapter explores particular court settings and lyric collections, restating the thesis strongly at each juncture. While this reiteration leaves one with the impression that the author does not trust the reader to adhere to her point of view so readily, it constitutes the only drawback to Taylor's presentation. In actual fact, a considerable amount of re-education may be necessary in order to approach this lyric as a clean slate, and Taylor's thorough construction of the intertextual features of each of the codices she presents takes the reader carefully through a process of rereading that must, by volume's end, convince even the most affirmed skeptics.

Chapter 1, "Courtiers and Craftsmen: The Social and Manuscript Context of Fifteenth-Century Lyric," examines three accounts of poetic competition in the late-medieval court--Le Pastoralet and Froissart's Roman de Meliador, both mentioned above, and Jean de Le Mote's Parfait du Paon--which chronicle the collection and preservation of performed lyric. From there, Taylors takes up codices compiled for individual patrons. These include single-author opuses such as Christine de Pizan's sumptuous Queen's Manuscript and the posthumously collated complete works of Eustache Deschamps (BNF fr. 840), as well as less elaborate miscellanies that are far less visibly intended to be readerly artifacts, all of which she scrutinizes from a codicological perspective. Taylor argues that while these compilations cannot be considered reliable depictions of identifiable textual events, they must nonetheless be understood as records of a particular sort of cultural transaction which will serve to frame, in the subsequent chapters, the structure and contents of the anthologies which the period has bequeathed.

The first such collection to which Taylor turns her attention, in chapter two, "Preserved as in a Violl: Charles d'Orléans' Circle and his Personal Manuscript," is BNF fr. 25458, containing the prince's own ballades and rondeaux as well as a plethora of later entries. Taylor traces the history of the manuscript from the "core" group of poems composed in England to the multiple additions made by Charles and various friends, courtiers and visitors following his release from captivity and the resumption of his court at Blois. As is true of his predecessors, Charles arranged his ballades to constitute a kind of pseudo-biography, sketchy but coherent nonetheless. Beyond this, the anthology shifts focus to become a kind of miscellany which reveals multiple voices engaged in dialogue. Themes are proposed as in a contest, and the poems responding to the challenge echo each other, often parodically, revealing via their very repetitiveness a lively forum of public interchange. Taylor's careful reading of intentional pairings of ballades by authors in colloquy with each other suggests an impressively large network of poetic activity centered on the court at Blois. The "conversation" which she seeks to reconstruct includes intimates and great princes, and offers a more central place in this "jeu de société" to François Villon than has been hitherto admitted.

Chapter 3, "Sundrie Occasions, Sundrie Gentlemen: the Coterie Manuscript," makes for fascinating reading as it considers a number of communal manuscripts from a variety of courts. Borrowing the term "coterie" manuscripts from later manuscript circulation practices, Taylor begins in Charles' circle, with Carpentras Bibliothèque Inguimbertine, ms 375. This codex, copied for Marie de Clèves, Charles' third wife, is largely a transcription of BNF fr. 25458. It sheds new light on the elusive Marie's character, however, as it reveals the duchess as a patroness in her own right, with her own place in the circle of poets and a voice quite distinct from her husband's. The other manuscripts she examines are BNF fr. 9223 and n.a.f. 15771, elegant octavo manuscripts featuring one poem per page, with the name of the author inscribed above. The contents of these collections overlap to a considerable extent with Charles' codex, but feature poets not included in his circle. As such, they appear to derive from an original "text monument" but evolve to become a "text event" much as was observed in Charles d'Orléans' case. Viewed as a collection, the shifting contents of these four codices attest to the variegated interactions of an elite group for whom poetic competence was mark of belonging.

Chapter 4, "A Priest of Poetry to the People: Antoine de Vérard and the Anthology," moves into the Renaissance with Vérard's Jardin de Plaisance, a veritable summa of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century courtly lyric. This notably popular work, which went through seven printings between 1501 and 1530, proves to be a strong advocate for Taylor's sociological perspective: its six hundred plus fixed-form lyrics are contextualized with elaborate rubrics and woodcuts which create for them precisely the kind of lyric-generating social network for which she argued in lyric compilations of the previous century. The evidence Taylor points to, which makes the lyric codex a text in which the reader becomes an active participant in its meaning, should give rise, in her assessment, to a neologism--recorderly?--which would describe the function of these anthologies in the circles that produced them.

Though Jane Taylor admits that neither Bourdieu's models nor his methods can be systematically applied to pre-modern culture, the insights which his sociological perspective afford are provocative and epiphanic, and propose to alter the way we look at manuscript compilation and intertextual citation in the high as well as the late Middle Ages. Taylor does great service to the medieval lyric and to manuscript studies by bringing Bourdieu's insights, coupled with rigorous textual scholarship, into medieval France. Her book should prove valuable to medievalists and early modernists from a number of disciplines.


1. Jane H. M. Taylor, The Poetry of François Villon (Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 7.

2. Op. cit., p. 7.

3. Op. cit., p. 15