James Morey

title.none: Hasenfratz, ed., Ancrene Wisse (James Morey)

identifier.other: baj9928.0210.004 02.10.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: James Morey, Emory University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2002

identifier.citation: Hasenfratz, Robert, ed. Ancrene Wisse. Teams: Middle English Text Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2001. Pp. v, 687. ISBN: 1-580-44070-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 02.10.04

Hasenfratz, Robert, ed. Ancrene Wisse. Teams: Middle English Text Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2001. Pp. v, 687. ISBN: 1-580-44070-3.

Reviewed by:

James Morey
Emory University

Anyone who spends even a few minutes in front of the ranked volumes of the Early English Text Society will remark on how many of them bear the title Ancrene Riwle or Ancrene Wisse. There are eleven, if one counts the French and Latin translations, now recently joined by the last English text to be edited, from the Vernon manuscript.[1] This guide for anchoresses is well known, and often cited, yet the difficulty of the dialects in which it is written, and the almost complete lack of annotation in any of the EETS volumes, distance and complicate the text from and for modern readers. Now, however, Robert Hasenfratz has edited the Ancrene Wisse in the distinguished and classroom-friendly series of TEAMS Middle English Texts. He has thereby made it possible to read the Middle English by means of extensive glossing, and he has supplied learned annotations with a helpful apparatus.

The Ancrene Wisse provides remarkable insights into the lives of anchoresses in thirteenth-century England with regard to their spirituality, confessional practice, reading matter, worship, and daily routine. Their intellectual milieu can also be observed given the quantity of exempla, biblical distinctiones, bestiary lore, and other learned matter which occupies much of the text. As such it is a "cultural document" (44) of great importance. Hasenfratz edits Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 402 (previously edited by Tolkien in EETS o.s. 249 [1962]). The merit of producing a single text edition is clear, since it offers a slice of textual reality as experienced in at least one manuscript, not a modern editorial reconstruction. Hasenfratz supplies a 44-page introduction, a 14-page bibliography, explanatory and textual notes, two appendices and a glossary, in addition to the text itself. As a volume in the TEAMS series, the apparatus -- especially the introduction -- is pitched to a more general academic audience. Hasenfratz quotes liberally from the work of other distinguished scholars (Peter Brown, Ann K. Warren, E. J. Dobson, Bella Millett, Robert W. Ackerman & Roger Dahood, et al.), but reading through his edition gives the definite impression that Hasenfratz is a bit too modest with regard to the scholarly role his work plays. While he graciously defers to the forthcoming critical edition by Millett (which will collate all extant English versions) and to the scrupulous diplomatics of the EETS editors, Hasenfratz has produced a classroom textbook with a variorum quality. His reading has been wide and judicious, and the range of his learning would lead one to believe that various hands were indeed at work in this edition, not just his.

Even seasoned medievalists will welcome the background Hasenfratz provides in his introduction. It is refreshing to see the office of ecclesiastical canons explained and differentiated in the context of the Augustinians and the Dominicans, and likewise refreshing to be given the reason for the name of the Premonstratensians (12-13). In the introduction and in the notes, Hasenfratz often supplies the bit of information or reasoning that demystifies the learned subject matter, whether it concerns why Santiago de Compostella was a major pilgrimage destination (462) or why Tolkien allied the Ancrene Wisse and the Katherine Group as exemplars of the "AB" language (21). Something as important as the Glossa Ordinaria is explained and contextualized -- with just the right bibliographic references -- instead of being glibly tossed off as something a student should know but is too intimidated to inquire about (463). The accurate, but never labored, information on manuscripts, linguistic features (laid out in charts), and possible sources (Bible, Aelred of Rievaulx, Vitas Patrum, et al.) allows users to grasp the full dimensions of the editorial enterprise. Hasenfratz does more than just summarize and explain, however. Any future work on the Ancrene Wisse will need to engage his proposals regarding the collaborative--even "communal" (15) -- nature of the work's authorship, the work's role in medieval feminist scholarship, and the debate over how mystical as opposed to pastoral the Ancrene Wisse is. Likewise, no one can afford to neglect his annotations, which incorporate years of scholarly seasoning and insight and constitute a major advance in our understanding of the work. The content of his note on the unicorn on page 446, for example, will be familiar to many medievalists (though not to undergraduates), and on the next page one is treated to a much less familiar discussion of divination via sneezing. Hasenfratz opens spaces in an otherwise very difficult text for students and scholars to pursue interests and projects. His extensive note on the recipes and applications for Greek fire is not to be missed (473-74).

My favorite parts of the edition are the two appendices (Motif and Exempla Index, and the Proper Names Index), since they are exactly the kind of enabling resource that can lead readers into the imaginative world of the text. The glossary also meets a very high standard, supplying in addition to the definition grammatical information, cognate words, and brief etymologies.

My least favorite part of the edition (a painful confession to make) is the text itself. On every page readers confront two almost evenly divided chunks of text: on the top the text from the Corpus manuscript, and on the bottom the glosses. Given the amount of space required to gloss the Middle English (over half the page, and often every single line, variously grouped), one is entitled to wonder -- given the presence of the excellent glossary -- whether a full modernization would have been a better option. True, if it were there, undergraduates would simply read the bottom half of each page, never lifting their eyes, but at least the Middle English would still be there as a kind of control, and as a classroom and special assignment resource. I think it fair to say that I have considerable experience reading a variety of Middle English, and while I can puzzle out most lines, it takes me a while. It is simply hard to imagine many undergraduates mapping the extensive glosses back onto the Middle English through all eight parts of the Ancrene Wisse. Hasenfratz himself notes how "the most daunting part of AW for modern readers" (423) is part one, and how part two "is in some ways the most complex section of AW: it moves by a logic that is not always obvious" (427). If we sometimes skip the Knight's Tale because we think it too long and complex, I hardly know what to recommend in this case. Yet, if we aspire to have students literate in Middle English, I see no other option. For these reasons I see a graduate student audience more suited to this kind of textual presentation, and modernizations (three are readily available, by Mary Salu, Anne Savage & Nicholas Watson, and Hugh White) more congenial options for undergraduates.[2]

For a work of this size and complexity, I have high praise for the presentation. Let me note the following, exceedingly minor, points: the bibliography neglects to note that there is now a third edition of the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1997) and a second edition of G. R. Owst's Literature and Pulpit (1961). There is a missing period in the citation for Trethewey's edition of Trinity College Cambridge MS R.14.7 (46). Bernhard Diensberg's first name is misspelled on page 39. There are stray hyphens at the bottom of page 455 and in the entry for "holy man" on page 564. The headnote to the glossary refers to an on-line edition at, but as of this writing (May 16, 2002), this text does not appear.

NOTES: [1] The English Text of the Ancrene Riwle: The Vernon Text edited from Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Eng. Poet. a.1, ed. Arne Zettersten and Bernhard Diensberg. EETS o.s. 310. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000.

[2] Mary Salu, trans. Ancrene Riwle. (London: Burns and Oaks, 1955; Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1990); Anne Savage and Nicholas Watson, transs. Anchoritic Spirituality: Ancrene Wisse and Associated Works (New York: Paulist Press, 1991); Hugh White, trans. Ancrene Wisse. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993).