title.none: Jaeger Responds to Mews (Jaeger)

identifier.other: baj9928.0002.023 00.02.23

identifier.issn: 1096-746X


publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000


type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medeival Review

The Medieval Review 00.02.23

Reviewed by:

Jaeger Responds to Mews' Review of Jaeger's Ennobling Love, TMR 00.02.01

by Stephen Jaeger

University of Washington

Constant Mews's review of my book, Ennobling Love: In Search of a Lost Sensibility, is based on readings of my first and last chapters. At least I can find no reliable traces of the intervening thirteen chapters--with one exception, which I'll discuss later. The one mention of the core of the book seems to derive from highly localized reading: "Of Ruodlieb," Mews writes, "he argues that its presentation of good women as a positive moral force `is to my knowledge new in the Middle Ages' (90). One has only to look at Jerome to see how traditional it is to contrast good with bad women." Mews has missed my reference to Jerome's and others' positive view of women on p.82, and missed the statement on p. 87: "A tradition of the praise of high noblewomen continued strong from antiquity to the end of the reign of Charlemagne" (with reference to Theresa Latzke's excellent study). The passage on "Ruodlieb" that Mews quotes claims that the conception of woman as a morally improving force for man--not simply female virtue--is new.

Otherwise--with that one exception I mentioned earlier-- Mews shows a knowledge of the central parts of the book that he could have gleaned from the table of contents.

I am perplexed at some of his general statements on the subject of courtly love in the Middle Ages. For instance, in his opening lines, Mews writes, "Ever since Gaston Paris declared that Chretien de Troyes was the inventor of courtly love...." In order to make that declaration, Gaston Paris would have had to be ignorant of troubadour love lyric and the romances of antiquity. What Paris did, of course, was to propose Chretien's "Lancelot" as a paradigm of courtly love. For another instance, "Jaeger's claim that `the major authority on love prior to the twelfth century is Cicero, not Ovid' (79) is unsettlingly assertive. Cicero speaks more about friendship than about love." Rather than assserting something unsettling, I took this to be a restatement of common knowledge. On p. 29 of "Ennobling Love" I quote Cicero on the interchangeability of "amor" and "amicitia": "Love is inseparable from friendship, Cicero claims; their names show their relatedness: "amor", "amicitia" ... Friendship [Cicero states] is an inclination of the soul joined with a feeling of love (sensus amandi)." A reading of Jan Ziolkowski's article "Twelfth Century Understandings and Adaptations of Ancient Friendship" (in Medieval Antiquity, ed. Welkenhuysen et al, 1995, 59-81) makes clear the role of Cicero and his position as an authority on "amor/amicitia" prior to Ovid. Such errors might not necessarily provoke a response to the review, but Mews regularly strikes the pose of magisterial authority in the areas treated by "Ennobling Love."

Mews's misreadings and careless formulations are too many to cite. But one particularly needs clarification. In explaining the book's general thesis he says of my paradigm case of ennobling love, Richard Lionheart in love with King Philip-Augustus, [Jaeger claims that this kind of love] "is fundamentally the same as that which Shakespeare describes at the opening of King Lear, when Cordelia refuses..." This is the reverse of my argument. I refer to Cordelia to show that ennobling love is fundamentally the opposite and state it unambiguously: "This book studies the conception of love that Cordelia violated" (4).

Mews did read the first chapter, but my ideas are not easy to recognize in his presentation. The attempt to do so reminded me of the fairy tale of the father who sends tall sons into the world and has them return transformed into dwarves. One example: Jaeger rejects, Mews claims, "a narrowly reductionist, post-Freudian mentality...", a claim which treats my analysis as nostalgic advocacy of the sensibility under study against a vulgar or repressive modernism--which it certainly is not. Some clarity could have come from Mews's survey if he had taken my use of Michel Foucault's "History of Sexuality" into account. I locate and develop the conception of ennobling love with reference to Foucault and the debates surrounding that book. Mews did not notice that when I mentioned Freud, I was presenting Foucault's ideas, not my own, and I was not "rejecting" anything.

Mews has also read around in my chapter 12, "The Epistolae duorum amantium, Heloise and her Orbit." This is the one exception I mentioned above. In fact, in a review that prints out to four single-spaced pages, he devotes one of them to this chapter. But he is concerned more with his own ideas and his own book than with the book under review. The Epistolae, he observes--and I agree--are "a remarkable collection of ... love letters." He gives full reference to his own study and translation of the letters, "The Lost Love Letters of Heloise and Abelard," which argues that the anonymously transmitted love-letters are those of Abelard and Heloise from the early days of their love affair--and I agree also on this. Mews's book appeared at the same time as mine. Mews feels that I should have noticed that the woman's conception of love in these letters is different from the man's--which is a central point of his own argument. Then follows the better part of a page explaining his thesis to readers. Along the way he prepares us for the impact of his book: "Undoubtedly these love letters will provoke controversy." No reader could follow my point about Heloise's combining Ciceronian friendship and passionate love by reading Mews's review.

Waiting in the wings like hopeful actors at a casting while Mews performs this comparatively lengthy riff on his own work, are sections of my book on Alcuin as a love poet, on love as a subject of teaching and learning, on the changing status of women in love relations in the early and high Middle Ages, on Robert of Arbrissel, on "sublime love" (a comparison of Ailred of Rievaulx and Andreas Capellanus), chaste love, distant love, sleeping together, the motif of love "raising the worth of lovers," on the legend of the origins of the Order of the Garter, a reading of the Parzival and Tristan romances, and of the biography of Christina of Markyate. Like unsuccessful actors, they can go home. The impresario of this review has given the leading role to his own mistress.