Kathryn L. Lynch

title.none: Symons, ed., Chaucerian Dream Visions (Kathryn L. Lynch)

identifier.other: baj9928.0505.002 05.05.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Kathryn L. Lynch , Wellesley College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Symons, Dana M., ed. Chaucerian Dream Visions and Complaints. Series: TEAMS Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2004. Pp. vii, 293. $22.00 (pb). ISBN: 1-58044-087-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.05.02

Symons, Dana M., ed. Chaucerian Dream Visions and Complaints. Series: TEAMS Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2004. Pp. vii, 293. $22.00 (pb). ISBN: 1-58044-087-8.

Reviewed by:

Kathryn L. Lynch
Wellesley College

The poems edited and anthologized by Dana M. Symons in this convenient and reasonably priced TEAMS edition include John Clanvowe's Boke of Cupide, God of Love, John Lydgate's Complaynte of a Lovers Lyfe, The Quare of Jelusy, and Richard Roos' translation of Alain Chartier's La Belle Dame sans Mercy. All of these poems, with the exception of The Quare of Jelusy were included in W. W. Skeat's 1897 supplement to his complete Chaucer, Chaucerian and Other Pieces, and all--again with the exception of the Quare--were presented as Chaucer's own in early sixteenth- and seventeenth-century printed editions of his poetry, like those of William Thynne and Thomas Speght. All but La Belle Dame sans Mercy form part of the manuscript Arch. Selden B. 24, a manuscript that, as Symons points out, is "heavily 'Chaucerian'" (159), again attesting to Chaucer's importance for these poems both in their original literary context and as they have been read and understood over the centuries. They are accordingly reunited here under the rubric "Chaucerian," a category that this edition seeks, somewhat inconsistently, to challenge.

In her general as well as in individual introductions to the poems Dana M. Symons energetically resists the standard critical practice of evaluating the fifteenth-century love vision within a "Chaucerian aesthetic" (11). Without excluding Chaucer as a significant influence, Symons wishes to recontextualize these poems within a broader literary tradition that includes French sources and that reads them against the background of a changing fifteenth-century horizon of expectation. Her argument, that we must expand our literary taste beyond the purely "Chaucerian," has plausibility on its face, and she makes the case with vigor and consistency. Nonetheless, the very act of bringing these poems together under the banner of the "Chaucerian" to some degree contradicts her critical aim. In addition, Symons argues against a purely Chaucerian aesthetic without having a fully developed alternative to put in its place. For example, in her introduction to Lydgate's Complaynte, she forcefully presses the claim for the "different pleasures" (86) provided by Lydgate's verse while only very briefly naming what these might be. As she explains, fifteenth-century readers were more interested in "surface ornamentation" than in "depth" (85), and in puzzling out historical and occasional significances. But only one such occasional possibility is mentioned (87), and there is little specific discussion of the actual features of poetic style and ornamentation that she admires. More supporting detail would, on the one hand, have helped to uphold the claim that these poems deserve to be studied for their specific literary merits, while at the same time paradoxically undermining the project of bringing them together in an edition of "Chaucerian" poems.

The good news, though, is that the poems collected here do not require such special pleading on the basis of artistic superiority. They have importance as literary history, and although this is partly because of their connection to Chaucer, it is not entirely on that account. Moreover, they are just plain interesting, as Symons shows when she is not prosecuting the argument for their aesthetic virtues. In her introduction to Clanvowe's The Boke of Cupide, God of Love, Symons enlarges the Chaucerian background of the poem to include The Legend of Good Women in addition to Chaucer's more purely courtly poetry and paves the way for a refreshingly skeptical and commonsensical reading. Her introduction to La Belle Dame sans Mercy is another case in point; by taking the debate seriously and moving outside of the conventional sympathy for the male courtly lover, her discussion opens the poem up to further exploration by modern readers from the perspectives of gender and genre. The edition of La Belle Dame sans Mercy is especially welcome as this poem has not been edited since the late nineteenth century. And although the other three texts have twentieth-century editions, there is a clear benefit to bringing them together for convenient comparison and for pleasure in a single volume. I was actually surprised at how enjoyable I found it to read these four poems. Symons' conversance with the critical contexts, her convenient glosses, the large pages with lots of white space for penciling in notes, and a high quality of scholarship are features that medievalists have come to value and expect in a TEAMS edition, and all these are found here in abundance. The almost simultaneous appearance of Julia Boffey's anthology Fifteenth-Century Dream Visions, published by Oxford University Press in 2003, augurs well for a renaissance of interest in this poetic tradition, even more so since there is no overlap between these two collections.

Much appreciated also is the rich presentation of source material in the notes, especially of the French source for La Belle Dame sans Mercy and alternative translations of specific lines where the editor has made a decision different from other editors or translators. Symons has a good sense for how and where to gloss and emend, but it is always helpful to be told where editorial interventions are taking place, and she is very responsible in meeting this obligation. I found myself agreeing with almost all her glossing decisions, though I would probably have set "God wote" off by commas in La Belle Dame, line 298, translating this line as "Such there be now who complain quite pitifully and yet who feel, God knows, not the greatest pain." There are a few typos and proofreading errors; for example, she lists the folios of The Quare of Jelusy as Selden 138v-141v (162), which is actually the location of The Boke of Cupide, whereas The Quare can be found at folios 221v-228v. Also, the reference to line 256 of La Belle Dame refers the reader to lines 157-60, which should be lines 257-60. But these are quibbles, of use only when the book (hopefully) goes into a second printing and can be corrected. I did not find many such errors considering the volume's length.

As with many TEAMS editions, the intended audience for this book is not entirely clear. The notes, which repeatedly and painstakingly gloss every medieval trope and convention, sometimes stretch the patience of the typical reader of medieval literary texts. E.g., is it really necessary to tell us that "pale and wan" "indicate[s] suffering" (120)? Or that "'Love at first sight' is proverbial" (247)? Honestly, it is difficult to imagine a reader with the background and motivation to read Lydgate and Clanvowe who doesn't already have this information. But even if there were such a student reader, surely that would not be the same reader who would pore over the textual notes to each poem, which, even if not a "complete collation" (17), turn out to represent an impressive scholarly achievement. The answer, of course, is that these editions have multiple readers, not all of whom are explicitly anticipated, and that is part of what makes them so worthy. (A similar point is made by Michael Calabrese in his TMR review [ID 01.09.20] of James Dean's TEAMS edition of Richard the Redeless and Mum and the Sothssegger, and I would like to second both his admiration of and bemusement at the series.) The modest aim announced on the back cover--to produce "readily available . . . student editions"--doesn't come near the full value of most TEAMS editions, which often silently replace the previous critical edition, as will certainly be the case with at least one of the texts edited here, and possibly all of them. This edition makes these four seldom read poems more widely available in a trustworthy and convenient format. Even if the poems continue to be known and appreciated largely for being "Chaucerian," this timely anthology will still have made its mark.