Cynthia Ho

title.none: Akehurst and Van D'Elden, eds., The Stranger in Medieval Society (Ho)

identifier.other: baj9928.9811.002 98.11.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Cynthia Ho, University of North Carolina, Asheville,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1998

identifier.citation: Akehurst, F. R. P. and Stephanie Cain Van D'Elden, eds. The Stranger in Medieval Society. Medieval Cultures, vol. 12. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. Pp. xiii, 149. $44.95 ISBN 0-816-63031-3 (hb). ISBN: $17.95 ISBN 0-816-63032-1 (pb).

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 98.11.02

Akehurst, F. R. P. and Stephanie Cain Van D'Elden, eds. The Stranger in Medieval Society. Medieval Cultures, vol. 12. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. Pp. xiii, 149. $44.95 ISBN 0-816-63031-3 (hb). ISBN: $17.95 ISBN 0-816-63032-1 (pb).

Reviewed by:

Cynthia Ho
University of North Carolina, Asheville

The Stranger in Medieval Society consists of selected papers from a conference of the same name at the University of Minnesota Center for Medieval Studies in 1994. The topic of "strangers," as opposed to "foreigners" or "aliens," provides a way to highlight the enormous changes taking place among many different groups in the period between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. "Stranger" is here narrowly defined to specify "those persons who have their own community and culture, and who come into a new environment. They are within the law" (vii). The editors state that they hope "to point out this unifying theme or motif and show how it can be used in various scholarly disciplines to organize a mode of perception and conceptualization common in the Middle Ages and still valid today" (viii). The collection does represent a variety of disciplinary approaches, although the majority of essays center on literary analysis. While all of the contributions make a connection to some aspect of the idea of stranger, all of the authors do not necessarily use the term in the same way. Readers expecting each essay to narrowly focus on real or literary "strangers" may be surprised, because some essays only use the term as a jumping off point. William Calin's explanation of the approach he uses in his own essay applies to others in the collection as well: "The reader may interject that I do not, strictly speaking, investigate medieval strangers; I am employing the stranger as a metaphor in critical discourse. This is partially true, although, for medieval man as for modern man, "strangerness" was never limited to spatial extraterritoriality. Anyone who broke feudal law and/or who declared himself a rebel vis-a-vis his lord became legally and morally a stranger to his law and his lord. Furthermore, given that the binary opposition of self and other, or center and margin, is a topos in contemporary criticism, it can do no harm to expand the parameters of this volume by employing it indeed as a metaphor or conceptual device to facilitate scrutiny of the text" (104).

Kathryn Reyerson's "The Merchants of the Mediterranean: Merchants as Strangers" (1- 13) is the first of three essays which take a historical view of stranger groups going into or returning to the places they live and conduct business. The article begins by wondering what these people's coping mechanisms tell us about the stranger experience. The higher esteem for merchants in Muslim countries made their overall experience more positive than those of Christians. The ways Christian merchants thrived included becoming permanent residents, living in colonies for foreigners, and using merchant manuals. Skills learned in long apprenticeships helped them to assimilate. The second essay, "Voluntary Strangers: European Merchants and Missionaries in Asia during the Late Middle Ages" by William D. Phillips, Jr. (14-26) continues the same line of inquiry by looking at European travels to the East made possible by the Pax mongolica (Mongolian Peace). Again, their strategies for survival and success are the focal point of the essay. Phillips provides an inventory of those who went East -- missionaries, diplomats and merchants -- and the texts they have left behind. An important issue he investigates as well is the language barrier; learning the others' languages and using adequate interpreters was an major factor in assimilation for these voluntary strangers. William Chester Jordan's "Home Again: The Jews in the Kingdom of France, 1325-1322" (27-45) explores a different kind of stranger: those who seek to return home. The background to this study is the expulsion of the Jews from France in 1306 and Louis X's negotiations with the Jewish elders to allow the Jews to return for a twelve year trial period. Jordan organizes his discussion of the eventually disastrous episode around the three ways in which the Jews were strangers: "aliens, sojourners and enemies" (28). Looking at each of these categories he explains that because of continued harassment, extortion, and treasonous accusations, most returning Jews left by 1322, and the agreement was not renewed. He concludes that the incident demonstrates that the fragile power of the crown at this time was not great enough to effect a change against popular sentiment.

Derek Pearsall's "Strangers in Late-Fourteenth Century London" (46-62) serves as a bridge between the essays of historical inquiry and those of literary analysis. In this essay he explores ways the "other" is represented in Middle English texts, most especially those of Chaucer and Langland and thereby contrasts the social/political worlds of these two famous authors. Pearsall looks at the meanings of the word "straunge" and demonstrates how it was used by Londoners who felt the need "to signal class distinctions more decisively" (51). Strangers then could be immigrants from the provinces or merchant strangers such as the Flemish cloth workers. In closing he examines the 1381 revolt over the poll tax which became an excuse to target immigrant workers such as the Flemings. The Londoner Chaucer's rendition in which all this simply becomes the unfortunate din in the background of the farmyard is "brutally trivializing" (59). "Knights in Disguise: Identity and Incognito in Fourteenth Century Chivalry" by Susan Crane (63-79) discusses the way disguise is a method of self aggrandizement: "Chivalric incognito, as a motif of romance and as a historical practice, amounts to a peculiar kind of self- presentation, a self-dramatization that invites rather than resists public scrutiny" (63). After reviewing the debate over individualism and communal identification in the Middle Ages, she examines Edward III's use of incognito in real life, the formation of chivalric orders as a means to produce shared identities, and Gawain's use of a female token for the institution of an order in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Each illustrates the ways becoming incognito negotiates between private self-perception and public determinations. Edward Haymes discusses the metaphor of the stranger in another romance in "The Sexual Stranger: The Sexual Quest in Wolfram's Parzival" (80-91). Haymes looks at the ways Chretien's works were interpreted in Germany first by Hartmann von Aue and then Wolfram von Eschenbach. In rewriting Parzival Wolfram more pointedly juxtaposes the spiritual quest of Parzival with the sexual quests of Gawain, and by being more sexually explicit than Chretien, successfully shows that a hero's goal in a quest is "the ideal relationship with one's lady" (90). The women in this case are the sexual strangers, who are not completely known until truly united with their husbands. Maria Dobozy's "Creating Credibility and Truth through Performance: Kelin's Encomium" (92-103) takes an author, the poet-minstrel Kelin (1250-87) and shows how his stranger status is evoked and manipulated in his fictional songs. Dobozy describes the medieval entertainer as a spin doctor much like Roger Ailes, media consultant and "creative image maker." In the song of praise to an earlier patron, Volkmar von Kemenaten, Kelin fulfills his previous commission while auditioning for future patrons and lending his song to other minstrels. Eventually reality and fiction, word and deed, create a cohesive unity for the audience"(100). In "The Stranger and the Problematics of the Epic of Revolt: Renaut de Montauban" (104-116) William Calin has two goals: to examine the way the hero of the epic must make himself a stranger to resolve a cultural impasse and to discuss why some texts are or are not canonical. While La Chanson de Roland presents a hero in sync with his world, the hero of Renaut de Montauban is a stranger who can only escape in two ways: leave Charlemagne's empire completely or abandon his identity and social class and build the cathedral at Cologne in the guise of a laborer. This chanson de geste "probes the vital social reality of feudalism and the psychological reality of men living in the real world" (113) and yet it has not approached Roland's hegemony in the canon. Janet Solberg's "'Who Was That Masked Man?': Disguise and Deception in Medieval and Renaissance Comic Literature" (117- 138) looks at three texts in which a man dresses as a woman in the "common medieval and Renaissance topos of the stranger who invades socially sanctioned closed spaces for the purpose of obtaining illicit sex" (117). In "La Saineresse" a man disguised as a female doctor treats the wife who thereby bests her husband for his boasting; in "Tale 45 of the Cent Nouvelles," the tale of "Margarite," a Scotsman disguises himself as a washerwoman to get access to the women of the town and their job; and in "Bonaventure de Perier's Sixty-second Nouvelle" a stranger dressed in women's clothing lives as a nun, loving the other nuns until he is caught. Solberg argues that the misreading of clothing and language are similar: "In all three tales, the protagonists, who can be seen as thematized or inscribed narrators, trade on other characters' proclivities to misread the language of behavior and clothes or to assume that a proper name is an adequate substitute or representation for its referent" (134). All of these are fine essays of themselves, albeit somewhat loosely and not always satisfactorily tied to the theme of "strangers."