William Hodapp

title.none: Bartlett, Cultures of Piety (Hodapp)

identifier.other: baj9928.0003.023 00.03.23

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: William Hodapp, College of St. Scholastica,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Bartlett, Anne Clark and Thomas H. Bestul, eds. Cultures of Piety; Medieval English Devotional Literature in Translation. London: Cornell University Press, 1999. Pp. 1, 256. $49.95 HB 0-801-43443-2. ISBN: $17.95 PB 0-801-48455-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.03.23

Bartlett, Anne Clark and Thomas H. Bestul, eds. Cultures of Piety; Medieval English Devotional Literature in Translation. London: Cornell University Press, 1999. Pp. 1, 256. $49.95 HB 0-801-43443-2. ISBN: $17.95 PB 0-801-48455-3.

Reviewed by:

William Hodapp
College of St. Scholastica

In the past several years, interest in devotional literature among scholars of late medieval England has increased, as evidenced by book-length studies of Julian of Norwich, Margery Kemp, and Richard Rolle, among others. Indeed, the editors of the volume under review here have both done much to increase our understanding of late-medieval devotional writing. In her book Male Authors, Female Readers: Representation and Subjectivity in Middle English Devotional Literature (Cornell University Press, 1995), for instance, Professor Bartlett offered an engaging analysis and survey of several key themes and ideas found in Middle English devotional texts written by men for women. Similarly, in his Texts of the Passion: Latin Devotional Literature and Medieval Society (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), Professor Bestul traced the presentation of the Passion theme in medieval Latin literature from the high to late Middle Ages. As both Bartlett and Bestul suggested in these earlier studies, devotional writing had a central place in medieval society.

The primary intent of such writing, as the editors point out in the present volume, was "to produce in the reader a receptivity: a frame of mind or emotional condition that prepares him or her for an encounter with the deity in the form of prayer, meditation, or contemplation" (2). Yet, while Julian, Margery, Rolle, and Hilton are occasionally taught, many advanced undergraduate and beginning graduate students interested in the Middle Ages (and perhaps even some teachers) remain unaware of the variety and nature of late medieval devotional writing. In part, this lack of awareness results from the unavailability of texts. Aside from a small piece from Rolle (e.g., "The Bee and the Stork"), or a sample of hagiography, editors of medieval literature anthologies typically do not include devotional writing, favoring instead selections of epic, romance, allegory, dream-vision, lyric, and to a lesser degree drama. Cultures of Piety helps fill this gap by offering a useful and accessible anthology of seven devotional texts composed in England between 1350 and 1450.

Bartlett and Bestul have organized Cultures of Piety into three sections: an introduction, which they authored; the anthology of translations, each of which is presented by a scholar in the field; and an appendix that includes diplomatic editions (i.e., based on either one manuscript or an early edition) of the six Middle English texts translated. In the introduction, Bartlett and Bestul explain their two-fold rationale for the book: first, "to demonstrate the rich variety of late medieval devotional writing and to suggest its importance in defining the literary culture of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century England" (1); and second, to enlarge the concept of the Middle English canon "to encompass texts of the kind included here" (1). As they argue for these texts' importance in understanding medieval English culture, the editors survey the history of Christian devotional writing, the various genres that fall under what they term the "meta-genre" of devotional literature (3), the range of audience for these texts (from lay aristocrat to professed religious), the texts' function as both devotional aid and self-help instructions, the issue of literacy in trilingual England, and the religious and political background of the period. All these topics help establish literary and socio-historical contexts for the translations that follow, thereby making the anthology more accessible to an audience encountering this kind of literature for the first time.

The second part of the book, then, is a series of seven chapters, each of which offers an introduction, bibliography, and translation of a given text. In chapter one, for instance, M. Teresa Tavormina introduces the historical, literary, and manuscript contexts of Henry of Lancaster's The Book of Holy Medicine, composed in Anglo-Norman French in 1354. Her translation, a selection from Henry's text, demonstrates the Book's aristocratic context and underscores the trilingual nature of English society during this period. Both autobiographical and allegorical, Henry's text interestingly presents a positive treatment of women in its focus on Mary as healer and mother. The remaining chapters in the anthology, all translations of Middle English texts, follow the same pattern exemplified in chapter one: introduction, bibliography, and translation.

Briefly, then, in chapter two, Robert S. Sturges presents selections from the pseudo-Augustinian Soliloquies, a monologue addressed directly to God. Composed sometime between 1365 and 1425, this Middle English version (Southwest Midlands dialect) of a thirteenth-century Latin text survives in two manuscripts, one of which includes an anti-Wycliffite commentary. Sturges' bases his translation (and edition in the appendix) on this latter manuscript. Also examining a Middle English version (West Midlands dialect) of a Latin text (De spiritu Guidonis), Mona L. Logarbo presents in chapter three a visionary piece, The Gast of Gy, which explores the nature of purgatory through an engaging narrative of a soul's return to earth after death. Logarbo offers succinct and useful surveys of medieval visionary literature and the doctrine of purgatory in setting contexts for her translation.

The next two chapters offer texts focusing specifically on Christ's passion, one of the most prevalent themes in late medieval art and literature. The Privity of the Passion, introduced and translated (selections) by Denise N. Baker in chapter four, is again a Middle English version (Northern dialect) of a thirteenth-century Latin text: the very popular Meditationes vitae Christi. In her introduction, Baker examines both the Meditationes tradition and the affective meditation it inspired, with its emphasis on the humanity of Christ. The selection she translates in particular includes scenes from the passion and death of Jesus, celebrated liturgically each year during holy week and, in the text itself, linked to the canonical hours of the day. Similarly, with chapter five, a complete translation of The Fifteen Oes, by Rebecca Krug, we find another type of passion meditation: a series of fifteen prayers addressed to Jesus and memorializing his passion and death. Again, originally composed in Latin, the prayers survive in several Middle English versions, including a verse rendering by John Lydgate. Krug translates a prose version based on a 1527 edition, which attests to the text's continued popularity into the sixteenth century. This early edition was in turn derived from William Caxton's 1491 translation of the text.

With the remaining two selections offered in Cultures of Piety, we move away from passion meditations to texts distinctive for different reasons. In chapter six, Paul F. Schaffner introduces and translates what he calls a "catechetical dialogue" (119), that is, a text structured around a series of questions and answers. Written around 1400, Life of Soul is also interesting, as Schaffner points out, in its apparent Wycliffite sympathies. Read against the Soliloquies (chapter two), it offers a contrasting view on a key religious conflict in late medieval England. Finally, in chapter seven, Claire Waters rounds out the anthology with selections from another piece composed for an aristocratic patron: Symon Wynter's Life of Saint Jerome, which he authored for Margaret of Clarence, sister-in-law to Henry V. This text offers a classic instance of medieval hagiography, the saint's life intended for edification and emulation. In addition, it offers an interesting insight into medieval book production when Symon instructs Margaret to copy the book and pass it on to another. She obviously followed his advice as four known manuscripts and one early printed edition of the text survive. Here, again, we also find in the introduction a useful discussion of hagiography and late medieval book production as background for the translation.

Of the seven texts translated in Cultures of Piety, two are offered in their entirety (The Gast of Gy; The Fifteen Oes); the rest are selections. Still, the selections are quite judicious, and the translators provide linking commentary where necessary so readers can readily follow the movement of the texts. In each instance, the translations read well, in smooth modern idiomatic English, and the introductions are genuinely helpful for an audience both of beginning medievalists and of veteran medievalists and scholars whose specialties lie elsewhere. Cultures of Piety would be particularly useful in a range of classroom situations, from undergraduate and graduate surveys of medieval English literature to topics courses in late medieval English culture. The appendix, which again includes diplomatic editions of the six Middle English texts, especially makes the anthology appealing to graduate-level courses (and some advanced undergraduate courses), where students will want to work directly with the Middle English. Bartlett and Bestul, in conjunction with their contributors, have produced a fine and useful anthology, which moves us closer to filling the gap of readily available medieval English devotional texts.