The Medieval Review 10.01.02

Dutton, Elisabeth. Julian of Norwich: The Influence of Late-Medieval Devotional Compilations. Studies in Medieval Mysticism. Woodbridge, Suffolk: D. S. Brewer, 2008. Pp. 189. $95.00 ISBN- 978-1843-84181-4. 9781843841814 .

Reviewed by:

Thomas Lawrence Long
University of Connecticut

My generation of scholars was introduced to medieval studies by those who stood on the shoulders of medievalists whose project was to place the literature of the Middle Ages within a pedigree of the Western tradition. Francis P. Magoun, Jr. invited us to read Anglo-Saxon poetry as a German version of the oral formulaic traditions discovered by Albert Lord and Milman Perry, which made Beowulf a distant cousin of the Odyssey. Ernst Robert Curtius preempted the "renaissance" with an encyclopedic account of the Latin Middle Ages. D.W. Robertson, Jr., viewed Chaucer from the perspectives of pagan Classical, Christian patristic, and medieval literary and philosophical traditions. Charles Muscatine located Chaucer in a refined French courtly tradition. C.S. Lewis suggested that Renaissance England was, in some respects, but old Middle Ages writ large. This was trickle-down history, cultural criticism from above.

Recent decades have brought new directions, from below. Theoretical tools provided by studies in gender and sexuality delineate the body's discursive traces in medieval texts. The study of vernacular theology examines practices, texts and traditions previously dismissed as demotic or neurotic. The history of the book and manuscript studies have extended beyond codicology and paleography to examine the cultures in which books were created, read, notated and used.

Elisabeth Dutton's Julian of Norwich: The Influence of Late- Medieval Devotional Compilations represents the harvesting of these scholarly developments, a study of late medieval vernacular theology circulated in English miscellanies, anthologies, and compilations whose use of auctores and attitudes about auctoritas influenced not only the content but the rhetorical structures of the two versions of Julian of Norwich's Revelation of Love. Dutton's Julian employs the compilation form in order to ensure her anonymity, to present the divine voice as her book's auctore, and to reveal the book's words for common Christians' benefit.

Dutton's introduction is extensive, identifying the critical themes of the scholars whose work Dutton refines, supplements and critiques. She notes that all studies of Julian are impaired by the absence of biographical evidence, which does not prevent scholars' speculations about the anchoress, particularly about her reading and education. What can be asserted with greater certainty is that the widespread popularity of miscellanies, anthologies, and compilations (Dutton is particularly concerned with Lyf of Soule and Book to a Mother), as well as household books, and a culture of the oral transmission of texts make it likely that Julian was immersed in devotional literature.

In the first chapter Dutton takes up the matter of the two versions of Julian's Revelation, the short version with its episodic visions and the long version with its intercalated devotional and theological commentary. She notes that medieval texts were structured by an Aristotelian ordinatio adapted to the compilatio (which Dutton situates in a broader cultural context to include Gower, Boccaccio, and Chaucer). Manuscript apparatus, including textual divisions, capitals, headings, and other readerly cues are considered. These textual devices suggest to Dutton different kinds of readers: the Amherst manuscript read by solitary contemplatives, and the Sloane manuscript read by two additional kinds of readers, namely a selective reader and a devotional reader.

Chapter two examines the voices of Julian's Revelation, which, while it does not provide extensive citation and attribution, does gesture to its weaving of sources and the divine voice. Dutton examines the ways that other compilations, like Speculum Christiani, The Chastising of God's Children, and Contemplations of the Dread and Love of God, assemble and introduce their sources. Like these, Revelation employs translation and paraphrase with commentary (the "meaning") expanding on the usually unidentified source. Dutton suggests that "compilers' techniques of citation and ventriloquism are adopted and adapted in the presentation of the divine voice and that of the recipient of divine revelation" in Revelation (85).

The third chapter examines in greater detail Julian's "ventriloquism," the presentation of the voices of Christ and Julian. Dialogue was, of course, one of the more popular literary, devotional, and philosophical genres of the Middle Ages, appropriated from Classical sources, whose template may be Augustine's Confessionum and Boethius' Consolatio philosophiae. The purpose of this colloquy, found in other devotional works like Lyf of Soule (a dialogue between a student and teacher), is to engage the readers in their own dialogue with Christ as well as to provide a rhetorically engaging exposition of the Church's teachings.

In the fourth chapter, Dutton compares the ways that Julian's Revelation shares in common with Book to a Mother a complex "circling structure" in which various voices, images and argument are assembled. Dutton takes up the question of Boethian influence, judiciously noting Julian's different treatment of dialogue.

Dutton concludes with a consideration of Bonaventure's distinction between auctor and scriptor, but notes that the compilatio collapses a clear and easy distinction. Julian's Revelation itself became the subject of later compilers, continuing a cycle of adaptation and appropriation by new readers for new purposes. That process is famously represented to humorous effect in the Wife of Bath's prologue, the widow's own compilation in response to her late husband Jankyn's misogynist compilation.

In Julian of Norwich: The Influence of Late-Medieval Devotional Compilations, Elisabeth Dutton has compiled (if you will) into one book her own extensive scholarship on literary and devotional culture in the late Middle Ages, engaged in a dialogue with differing critical views, and provided both scholar and student with a meticulous and carefully argued account.