Stephanie Pafenberg

title.none: Schultz, The Knowledge of Childhood (Pafenberg)

identifier.other: baj9928.9702.002 97.02.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Stephanie Pafenberg, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1997

identifier.citation: Schultz, James A. The Knowledge of Childhood in the German Middle Ages, 1100-1350. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995. Pp. xx, 318. $38.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-812-23297-6.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 97.02.02

Schultz, James A. The Knowledge of Childhood in the German Middle Ages, 1100-1350. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995. Pp. xx, 318. $38.95. ISBN: ISBN 0-812-23297-6.

Reviewed by:

Stephanie Pafenberg
Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario

In the final chapter of his thorough examination of the portrayal of children and childhood in Middle High German texts, Schultz makes two summary claims which we can use as measuring sticks to evaluate the contribution his study makes to medieval studies. The first "is narrow but strong": "I hope to have described with some precision and comprehensiveness the discourses, the practices, and the institutions of childhood, within the largely fictional world of MHG texts" (266). Indeed, Schultz should be praised for having gathered references to childhood from an impressive bibliography of primary texts ranging from "Adam und Eva" to "Die Legende vom zwölfjährigen Mönchlein," including lesser-known historical and homiletic texts such as several 14th-century "Schwesternbücher" and "biographies" of Mary and Jesus. Thanks to the extensive list of primary sources, Schultz is in a position to treat a variety of themes. After surveying the MHG terms for children (such as the social designation juncherr or the vocational one knappe for boys, and the virginal term maget for girls), Schultz begins a chapter by chapter discussion of nature, nurture, making and breaking of interpersonal

relations, the process of growing up and related subtopics. Particularly interesting is his discussion of children's education and his analysis of childhood gender difference.

Not only is Schultz' study of the portrayal of childhood in MHG texts "comprehensive"; his descriptions and annotations are indeed "precise." Throughout the book Schultz summarizes illustrative scenes, always supplying numerous references to parallel moments in other MHG texts. For example, supplementing a discussion of young heroes' and heroines' relationships to their siblings in the chapter on "Attachment, Separation, and Strange Situations," Schultz offers over 70 references (most with line numbers) to texts whose main characters are either clearly or seem to be only children (114, fn.42). These abundant footnotes and textual references function as a "concordance on childhood" to MHG texts, useful for Germanists as well as medievalists in other disciplines.

Schultz' study is what he claims: a comprehensive and precise description of childhood as portrayed in MHG texts. But comprehensiveness can have its cost and descriptiveness can be a shortcoming. The unwieldy corpus seems to tempt Schultz into offering several different approaches to and means of organizing his material. Following the aforementioned thematic discussion in chapters 3-6 , Schultz reapproaches his material in chapter 7 by classifying his sources structurally. Schultz categorizes the texts according to the amount of childhood told in them -- a distinction which contributes little to our understanding of the works -- and the "vocation"of the child characters -- a somewhat unclear distinction. (Schultz uses the term "vocation" very broadly, distinguishing character types such as the "enamored maiden," the "enamored youth" and the "refiliated son" from the "clerical saint" and the "virgin saint".) Schultz extends his structural/thematic analysis to the second-to-last chapter in which he offers an at times meandering diachronic review of the development of the different themes of childhood and narrative structures of MHG texts, with occasional useful and interesting references to Latin and French traditions. Schultz finally masters his material in the last chapter. Here he delivers his postponed interpretations and conclusions about the attitudes toward childhood expressed in MHG texts: childhood is presented as an age of deficiency; childhood is modelled on adulthood; childhood is an age of revelation; and childhood is a period of changing relationships.

Schultz makes a second claim about his study: "The other claim is weaker but bolder: I believe that the MHG knowledge of childhood I have described provides the best idea we can get of the knowledge of childhood among the German speaking nobility between 1100-1350" (266). To this reader the claim -- and Schultz' method -- is hardly bold enough! Unfortunately, Schultz masks his conclusions which he could have applied more generally to European medieval culture behind phrases such as "MHG knowledge of childhood" or "the MHG construction of childhood." Why such caution? There is of course a long tradition of national language scholarship. It was a conscious methodological decision on Schultz' part to define his corpus linguistically and thus, by extension, similarly define the content of that corpus as "the MHG knowledge of childhood." He even creates the solecism "MHG children!" After 268 pages of description and analysis, however, "MHG children" is no longer simply a turn of phrase; it takes on the character of an object of investigation -- but it is a fake one, that is, it is a construct of Germanistik, not of medieval culture. Were there ever "MHG children"? Would they in fact have been so different from their "Old French" noble cousins? Why not speak of courtly children or monastic children? Schultz claims he wants "to discover the culturally specific knowledge of childhood that informs those [his German] sources" (17). But despite the fact that he has analysed texts written in feudal Europe which portray heroes and heroines of which 76% are nobles and 16% saints (59), Schultz from start to finish privileges language over culture: privileges German over courtliness (or monasticism, as the case may be). And in doing so Schultz misses the opportunity to take his knowledge and insights explicitly beyond the confines of his home discipline, Germanistik.

Perhaps Schultz adopted a position of methodological caution to avoid the controversy which has surrounded scholarship on childhood in the Middle Ages, particularly the work of Philippe Aries. Like many critics, Schultz takes issue with Aries' dubious suggestion that pre-modern parents did not develop the attachment to their offspring, did not love them, as parents in our modern age do. To counter Aries' claim, Schultz wants to bring numerous examples of literary depictions of parents loving their children. The problem with accepting Schultz' examples as "a massive challenge to Aries' famous claim" as Schultz would like us to, lies in the varying nature of their respective "proof": Aries draws his conclusions from assumptions about infant mortality rates and demographics and the autobiographical "Essais" of Montaigne; Schultz' examples come from literary texts in which most of the fictional offspring -- by his own accounting and in contrast to actual medieval children -- are single children, and in which the literary incidences of infant death are much lower than in actuality. It may, in the long run, be easier and more profitable to counter Aries not with examples but with an attack on his method: on what basis does he make assumptions about the psycho-emotional development of medieval adults without having adequate access to the complex biological, cultural and social circumstances which influence such psychic development?

Schultz also disputes Aries' second controversial claim: "In medieval society the idea of childhood did not exist" ("Centuries of Childhood", London: Jonathan Cape, 1962, 128). In his final chapter Schultz reconfigures a quote from Aries and vehemently distances himself from the historian's position. But are Schultz' findings in essence as different from Aries' conclusions as Schultz would lead us to believe? To answer this question it is useful to compare how Schultz quotes Aries and what Aries wrote. In the final pages of the book Schultz reduces Aries' position to the claim that "'medieval civilization failed to perceive' the 'difference...between the world of children and that of adults'" (250). Schultz then argues: "A period of life [childhood] defined by its lack of adult qualities and adult skills is a period of life defined precisely by its difference from adulthood" (251). While this is logically true, Schultz seems to have missed Aries' point. If one rereads Aries' passage in its entirety, if one rereads the second part of "Centuries of Childhood" on 'Scholastic Life' or if one reads the preface to the second French edition (Paris, 1972) (which unfortunately is not in the 1960 English translation used by Schultz), it becomes clear that Aries is primarily interested in the culture-specific educational practices and institutions which define the contours and content of childhood. Aries contends that the dominant educational model in the Middle Ages is apprenticeship, which requires that children are taken out of a domestic family or community structure very early on to become the companion of an adult. Although Schultz wants to distance himself from Aries, he offers the Frenchman massive support with conclusions like: "Education is only one of a number of situations in which MHG narrative ignores the relations among children in favor of those between children and adults" (96); or, in analysing parent-child didactic dialogues: "the parents are concerned above all to teach their children to be good adults, not good children" (97). That is to say, if we may use Schultz' vocabulary, "MHG children" are taught by "MHG adults" to adhere to a "MHG adult code of behaviour" within a "MHG social space" inhabited jointly by adults and children. Or if we prefer to use the language of cultural history after the manner of Aries: in medieval courtly culture, once children reached the age of apprenticeship they entered the "world" of adults.