contributor.author: Sarah A. Kelen

title.none: Stein und Prior eds., Reading Medieval Culture (Sarah A. Kelen)

identifier.other: baj9928.0609.017 06.09.17

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Sarah A. Kelen, Nebraska Wesleyan University, sak@NebrWesleyan.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Stein, Robert M. and Sandra Pierson Prior, eds. Reading Medieval Culture: Essays in Honor of Robert W. Hanning. Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 2005. Pp. ix, 505. $37.50 0268041113. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.09.17

Stein, Robert M. and Sandra Pierson Prior, eds. Reading Medieval Culture: Essays in Honor of Robert W. Hanning. Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 2005. Pp. ix, 505. $37.50 0268041113. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Sarah A. Kelen
Nebraska Wesleyan University
sak@NebrWesleyan.edu

In this collection, Sandra Pierson Prior and Robert M. Stein attempt the daunting task of assembling a set of essays to demonstrate the wide-ranging influence of the volume's honoree, Robert W. Hanning. Although much of Hanning's recent work has been on the Decameron and the Canterbury Tales, over the course of his career, Hanning has written about topics ranging from Beowulf to Medieval English Drama, from Marie de France to Ariosto, from early British historiography to medieval romance.

Any one of these topics could have provided the organizing principle for a collection of essays, and surely it would have been easy to gather a fine set of contributions on any single "Hanning-inspired" topic, given Hanning's long career as a dedicated teacher and mentor at Columbia University from 1964-2004. [In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I was myself one of Hanning's many students (1990-1996).] To pick just one of Hanning's research interests would, however, have been a disservice to the spirit of a man who not only taught classes touching on all the areas listed above but who expanded his teaching far beyond the Middle Ages by introducing at Columbia a course on Race and Racism, because he thought it was an urgent topic in contemporary society. Prior and Stein have therefore assembled a collection that attempts to engage as many of Hanning's own research fields as possible.

The editors have arranged this volume into three sections representing three of Hanning's particular areas of interest: "The Place of History and the Time of Romance" (eight essays); "Chaucer's Texts and Chaucer' Readers" (eight essays); and "Italian Contexts" (four essays). As this outline suggests, Reading Medieval Culture is a large volume. Such capaciousness proves, in this case, to be a strength of the book rather than a weakness. All of the essays are thought provoking and important, and none has been previously published elsewhere. In the context of professional and publishing specialization, such a far-reaching collection has an important benefit for its readers, one emblematic of Hanning's own contribution to Medieval Studies: it reminds scholars of the interconnectedness among fields all too often professionally divided.

Particularly valuable in this regard (and particularly appropriate to Hanning's scholarship) is the diversity of linguistic and literary traditions discussed in this collection. Hanning spent his entire professional career (as both student and teacher) in a combined department of English and Comparative Literature, a relatively atypical institutional configuration, but one perfectly suited for a medievalist. Medieval English literary culture was resolutely multilingual, a point made explicitly in essays here by Christopher Baswell ("Troy, Arthur, and the Languages of 'Brutis Albyoun'") and Warren Ginsberg ("'Gli scogli neri e il niente che c'': Dorigen's Black Rocks and Chaucer's Translation of Italy").

In addition to providing analyses of medieval literary works from different national literatures, Reading Medieval Culture includes essays that use texts or methodologies from academic disciplines other than literary studies. For example, a number of essays in the book could be classified as art historical, given their interest in the history of aesthetics. Joseph A. Dane's essay "Linear Perspective and the Obliquities of Reception" summarizes the different varieties of linear perspective developed in fifteenth-century art, and demonstrates the confusions produced by later scholars' misrepresentations of those geometrical principles. David Rosand similarly analyzes the way that the changing history of aesthetics has hampered historical analyses. In "Una linea sola non stentata: Castiglione, Raphael, and the Aesthetics of Grace," Rosand shows that Castiglione's aesthetics of "grazia" (grace) includes artistic practice, not simply the courtly ethos most commonly associated with Castiglione.

The field of aesthetics is invoked also by Sarah Spence, particularly as it intersects with the theology of love. Spence's essay, "What's Love Got to Do with It?: Abbot Suger and the Renovation of Saint-Denis" urges the reader to recognize not only Suger's interest in the aesthetics of beauty but also his concern with the connection between eros and action. These three essays are not alone in using the tools of literary analysis toward an interdisciplinary history of ideas. Other essays in the volume engage in the fields of medieval historiography (Monika Otter's "Prolixitas Temporum: Futurity in Medieval Historical Narratives"); natural philosophy (Charlotte Gross's "Time and Nature in Twelfth-Century Thought: William of Conches, Thierry of Chartres, and the 'New Science'"); trecento imperial politics (Joan Ferrante's "Women in the Shadows of the Divine Comedy"); and English urban history (Margaret Aziza Pappano's "'Leve Brother': Fraternalism and Craft Identity in the Miller's Prologue and Tale").

Despite the obvious range of topics covered by the essays Reading Medieval Culture, the different arguments do reinforce one another in fascinating ways. For instance, a reader interested in the representations of women's agency in twelfth-century narrative might purchase this volume for the essays by H. Marshall Leicester ("The Voice of the Hind: The Emergence of Feminine Discontent in the Lais of Marie de France") and Nancy Partner ("Christina of Markyate and Theodora of Huntington: Narrative Careers"). Reading further, that person could then find in the volume a number of related essays on neighboring topics, including Elizabeth Robertson's "'Raptus' and the Poetics of Married Love in Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale and James I's Kingis Quair." Such interconnections throughout the volume will be particularly fruitful for medievalist graduate students looking to widen their knowledge base within their areas of interest and to ground their research thoroughly in the work of a range of scholars.

That said, such fortuitous discoveries of useful material in seemingly unrelated essays are, of course, limited to those readers who will take the time to read through the volume's twenty contributions, well over 400 pages. Unfortunately, many excellent essays in this volume may never be found by researchers reliant on keyword searches in computerized databases for their access to the important work in any given field. A more narrowly focused volume, while certainly less true to the career and influence of the honoree, might have provided a larger audience for the book's contents, simply because those contents would be more clearly defined for the casual browser or the researcher seeking specific kinds of information.

It would indeed be a shame if the volume's breadth (paradoxically) limited its readership, for the essays in Reading Medieval Culture are all of very high quality. The editors are to be commended for their selection of provocative works by both well-known scholars in their fields (e.g., H. Marshall Leicester, Jr., Joan M. Ferrante, Elizabeth Robertson) and also some younger or lesser-known authors. Prior and Stein have also written a very straightforward and useful introduction ("The Work of Robert Hanning and the Work of This Book") to guide the reader; here they briefly summarize each of the twenty essays, identifying some of the thematic connections among the different arguments.

My one quibble with Prior and Stein's editorial work is their decision to allow H. Marshall Leicester to break the format of the volume (not to mention the standard format of almost all contemporary scholarship) and write his essay without citational footnotes. Leicester includes between his essay and his explanatory footnotes a long bibliographic note, citing some dozen studies which have influenced his work, but he does not specify where in particular his argument approaches those he cites. Leicester explains this unusual practice by assuring the reader that "the perspective developed here was sufficiently different, especially in its systemic nature, from what I found elsewhere to justify" the lack of direct citation. The perspective Leicester refers to is his identification in Marie's works of an only partially occluded secondary narrative voice, one that calls into question the ideology of the lais' dominant discourse. Leicester's focus on the systemic presence of that subversive voice (metonymically named in his title for the androgynous, supernatural "voice of the hind" in "Guigemar") might be a new way of reading the Lais as a collection; however, feminist scholars have indeed identified subversive ideologies in particular passages of Marie's work, a fact that traditional footnotes could have elucidated.

Leicester's essay, if unconventional in format, is representative of the volume's essays insofar as it invokes some of the concepts of "high theory" (here both the Derridean surplus and the Lacanian Symbolic) without losing track of the medieval text, and without becoming overburdened by jargon. A similar pattern of engagement with modern and postmodern literary theory as a valuable counterpoint to medieval philosophies can be seen in other essays. Peter Travis's essay "The Body of the Nun's Priest, or, Chaucer's Disseminal Genius" cites both Freud and Derrida in service of an argument that Harry Bailly's exaggerated gender anxieties in Fragment VII of the Canterbury Tales highlight Chaucer's own aesthetic self-referentiality within that fragment. Nevertheless, the gender theorists Travis cites most centrally are Bernardus Silvestris and Alain de Lille. In "From Bede's World to 'Bede's World,'" an essay less explicitly but no less substantially theoretical, Nicholas Howe demonstrates Bede's self-awareness of his own Northumbrian marginality, as seen from the perspective of Rome. In this, Bede is implicitly a postcolonial subject, forced by the hegemonic discourse to see himself as Other, yet also deeply aware of the paradoxes this externalized self-conception produces.

While there is not space in this review to discuss each of the twenty essays in detail, or to analyze each author's indebtedness to the scholarship of Robert W. Hanning, it does seem appropriate to close by noting that a few of the collection's authors did succumb to the temptation to imitate Hanning in perhaps his most characteristic scholarly gesture, the punning title. Surely the author of such essays as "'Come in out of the Code' Interpreting the Discourse of Desire in Boccaccio's Filostrato and Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde" and "The Talking Wounded: Desire, Truthtelling, and Pain in the Lais of Marie de France" must have been pleased to see in his Festschrift titles such as Spence's "What's Love Got To Do With It" (cited above) or Suzanne Conklin Akbari's "The Hunger for National Identity in Richard Coer de Lion," an essay about the conflation of Richard's cannibalism and his nationalism in the Romaunce of Richard Coer de Lion. In its titular puns, no less than in its scholarly breadth, Reading Medieval Culture is an appropriate tribute to the man who inspired it. More than this, the book is, in its own right, a valuable collection of new work by (and for) medievalist scholars in a range of disciplines.