Karen Winstead

title.none: Whatley, et al., Saint's Lives in Middle English Collections (Karen Winstead)

identifier.other: baj9928.0603.004 06.03.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Karen Winstead, Ohio State University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Whatley, E. Gordon, with Anne B. Thompson and Robert K. Upchurch, eds. Saint's Lives in Middle English Collections. Series: TEAMS: Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2004. Pp. x, 373. (pb). ISBN: 1-58044-089-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.03.04

Whatley, E. Gordon, with Anne B. Thompson and Robert K. Upchurch, eds. Saint's Lives in Middle English Collections. Series: TEAMS: Middle English Texts Series. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2004. Pp. x, 373. (pb). ISBN: 1-58044-089-4.

Reviewed by:

Karen Winstead
Ohio State University

Scholars of Middle English hagiography will welcome the appearance of this volume, which provides high-quality editions of a range of saints' lives. Intended, in part, to complement the selection that Sherry Reames edited for TEAMS, Middle English Legends of Women Saints (2003), this anthology focuses on holy men: Andrew, George, Jerome, Benedict, Augustine of Canterbury, Francis, and Julian the Hospitaller; the only women's lives are those of St. Benedict's sister, Scholastica--a natural choice in that her brief account has so much to say about her relationship with Benedict--and, more idiosyncratically, a life of the reformed prostitute Thaïs. The emphasis on men's lives serves a growing interest in masculinity among scholars of gender and sexuality and addresses the dearth of modern editions of male saints' lives.

The edition features an engaging assortment of characters and stories, some pure fictions, others rooted in history. We encounter St. George, the dashing dragon slayer, alongside Jerome, the renowned Church Father, and St. Julian, the parricide and penitent. Three of the "lives", as the editors point out, are more properly considered examples of a related hagiographical genre, the miracle story, relating a single, miraculous encounter with the saint rather than telling a life story. Thus, in John Lydgate's "St. Austin at Compton", the saint arranges the posthumous absolution of a specter who regrets withholding tithes during his lifetime; in the Scottish Legendary's "St. Andrew and the Three Questions", the apostle rescues one of his devotees from the designs of an alluring demon; and in "St. Jerome and the Lion", the saint sets a grateful lion the task of guarding his community's donkey. The assemblage of lives, passions, and miracle stories, with its assortment of saints, is well suited to the editors' goal of presenting "the classic types of hagiographic legend as these were presented to the lay public and less-literate clergy of late medieval England". (1)

The collection is embedded within a voluminous scholarly apparatus. A general introduction offers the neophyte a guide to the terrain, defining the different hagiographical genres represented (life, passion, miracle story) and explaining common purposes for writings a saint's life (instruction, celebration of a holy person, promotion of a cult, or--more problematically--provision of a model for imitation). This introduction also surveys the hagiographical tradition in England, with special attention to hagiographical anthologies in Middle English. The South English Legendary,from which most of the selections are drawn, receives an appropriately extended treatment. The edition concludes with an extensive bibliography.

The introductions to the individual selections are exceptionally detailed, sketching the history of the saint's cult, surveying writings about and iconography of that saint, and considering genre, dialect, sources and analogues, and distinctive thematic and stylistic features of the text at hand, while providing ample historical context. For example, the introduction to the life of St. Scholastica surveys the tradition of Benedictine nuns, while the introduction to the life of St. Francis dwells on the world of the historical Francis, with its heretics and charismatic ascetics. Where authors are known (Simon Winter and John Lydgate), useful information is included about their lives and their patrons. The thorough notes are conveniently divided into two sections, "textual" and "explanatory."

Although it might seem churlish to criticize such scrupulous scholarship, the copious apparatus does have a drawback, in that it comes at the expense of the primary sources. Simon Winter's "Life of St. Jerome" is a prime example. Winter's life runs to about thirty pages in Horstmann's edition (Anglia, 1880); here, a twelve-page abridgement of Winter's life is wedged between sixteen pages of introduction and fifteen pages of notes; "reasons of space" (113), the editors claim, prevented their including more than Winter's preface, table of contents, and four of his nineteen chapters! Yet surely any reader requiring the level of textual commentary provided here would also require an unabridged text. Other selections are similarly dwarfed by their apparatus: twelve pages of introduction and notes swaddle a four-page martyrdom of Andrew, twenty pages of apparatus a seven-page life of Benedict, and twelve pages of apparatus a two-page life of Thaïs. The result is that this book tends toward being less an anthology of Middle English saints' lives and more a textbook on the Middle English saint's life with embedded examples. A more modest apparatus would have allowed the inclusion of important saints who are regrettably absent, such as Alexis, Eustace, Thomas Beckett, and Edward the Confessor. It is especially disappointing not to find here a single representative of the many Anglo-Saxon saints who appear in the South English Legendary and the Gilte Legende.

The anthology's organizing principle is not entirely clear. Though entitled Saints' Lives in Middle English Collections, it draws from only three collections: the South English Legendary (source of six selections), the Scottish Legendary (two selections), and the Northern Homily Cycle (one selection). Two of the selections, meanwhile, Winter's life of Jerome and Lydgate's "St. Austin at Compton", were composed as freestanding narratives. It seems odd for a book that purports to feature Middle English collections to exclude the Vernon Golden Legend, the 1438 Gilte Legende, and Caxton's Golden Legend. The editors explain their omission of material from the Gilte Legende on the grounds that "a significant portion of it" (12) was recently published in Supplementary Lives in Some Manuscripts of the "Gilte Legende" (Richard Hamer and Vida Russell, eds., Oxford, 2000). But Supplementary Lives, at $108, is priced well out of the range of the students who are the target audience of the TEAMS volumes--and if availability of a modern edition is a disqualifying factor, why include Winter's "Jerome," which Claire Waters edited and translated in a reasonably inexpensive anthology, Cultures of Piety (Cornell, 1999)?

Despite my quibbles about the balance and organization of this anthology, it is one I look forward to using both for personal reference and in teaching undergraduate and graduate classes. The medley of entertaining legends will appeal to undergraduates, and serious students at any level will benefit from the learned notes and introductions.