12.01.22, Hunt, "Cher alme": Texts of Anglo-Norman Piety

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Carol Harvey

The Medieval Review 12.01.22

Hunt, Tony. "Cher alme": Texts of Anglo-Norman Piety. The French of England Translation Series, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2010. Pp. xii, 445. ISBN: 978-0-86698-433-1.

Reviewed by:
Carol Harvey
University of Winnipeg

For some three centuries after the Norman Conquest of England, French was the language of king and court, of the social and ecclesiastical nobility, of government and the law. Variously known today as Anglo- Norman or Anglo-French, the French of England developed alongside English as a language of culture and literature. Dean and Boulton's authoritative Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts (1997) lists almost one thousand texts, including romance, epic, poetry, treatises, saints' lives and other devotional texts. Since its foundation in 1937, the Anglo-Norman Text Society has published editions of some texts, but many others remain unpublished and only a few have been translated. A new series from the Arizona Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies aims to open the field of Anglo-Norman to a broader audience. Series' editors Thelma Fenster and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne will make important Anglo-Norman texts accessible in English translation, thereby promoting a fuller understanding of the interrelation of French and English in the culture of medieval England and in its literature.

This first volume in the Occasional Publication Series contains a broad range of sixteen hitherto unpublished devotional texts in prose or verse, of varying length and different genres, together with facing-page English translations. Presented by themes rather than genre, the texts fall into six sections: I The Tenets of the Faith, II Marian Texts, III The Passion, IV Private Prayers, V Vices and Confession, VI Virtues and Rewards. The General Introduction by Henrietta Leyser includes historical and religious background information on each of these sections. It explains the development of devotional literature in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, particularly following the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 and Pope Innocent III's emphasis on the duty of pastoral care; the growing devotion to Mary, Mother of God, as intercessor between God and humankind; the importance of personal piety and private prayer, as well as the seven sacraments in the exemplary Christian life; the role of confession and contrition for the cleansing of the soul; the punishments facing the unrepentant sinner, and the rewards of eternal joy that await the faithful at the Last Judgement at the end of time.

Each individual text forms a chapter, and is preceded by its own introduction, focussing on the manuscript on which the text is based, its provenance, and its author if known. Other related texts of insular or continental origin are included by way of comparison, together with information on the editions in which these Middle English or French versions are found, or works in which they are discussed. Also included are brief remarks on the writer's style, any Latin inclusions, biblical references or information on popular sources in legends, non-scriptural miracles, or the Apocrypha. The texts are established in accordance with the section on Treatment of Text and Editorial Conventions in the General Introduction (21-2), and both the introduction and the edited text are fully annotated.

As most texts are anonymous and many unique, introductory remarks are generally brief, consisting of two or three pages. An exception is Chapter 2, Adam of Exeter's thirteenth-century Commentary on the Pater Noster (71-7), found in four manuscripts in addition to the Cambridge, Pembroke College MS 112 on which this edition is based. Hunt notes that little is known about the author (variously referred to as Ada de Exonia or de Oxonia). He is usually identified with one Adam Rufus associated with the Franciscan friars of Reading, and to whom Grosseteste addressed a letter. Of special interest is the fact that he addressed his commentary to a female religious and her companions, thereby indicating an awareness of the importance for women of pastoral and devotional writings in the vernacular. However, some of the references to "chere mere" have subsequently been erased and addressed to a male, although others have not been corrected, resulting in a curiously hybrid mix of male and female addressees. Hunt lists full information about all five manuscripts in which the commentary on the Pater Noster is found in French, and also mentions several insular commentaries of the Pater Noster in Latin. Most significantly, he notes that Adam's text was the source for a later Middle English text, also addressed to a woman, the Pater Noster of Richard Ermyte--important proof of the interrelation between the vernacular languages at play in the culture and literature of medieval England. All in all, the wealth of detailed information contained in this introduction is of itself an impressive contribution to scholarship.

As mentioned above, "Cher alme" contains a broad range of sixteen doctrinal and devotional texts from different sources, but all primarily intended to provide religious instruction and pastoral care either to the laity or to those in religious orders. The first of these texts is the didactic Dialogue of Father and Son, which conveys instructions on the tenets of the faith in a favourite medieval form. Also of note is a series of Anglo-Norman prayers in verse and prose from the well-known manuscript MS Harley 2253. The lengthy Minstrels' Passion consists of 846 lines of octosyllabic rhyming couplets, a form also used in the Assumption text. Other pieces include a treatise on the Three Vows of Chastity, Poverty and Silence that those dedicated to God are enjoined to follow, while the concluding text is a treatise on Purgatory, a doctrine that generated much discussion from the late twelfth century. Although the prose treatise is used more frequently than other genres, Anglo-Norman writers were clearly conversant with different literary forms and registers. Perhaps the most moving of these expressions of piety is Thirteen Joys, a meditation on the joys attributed to Our Lady, and the most terrifying is without a doubt the treatise on Purgatory.

A word about the translations. Anyone familiar with the art of translation knows the problems of keeping original and translation of approximately the same length. Jane Bliss has achieved this, allowing the eye to travel readily from the original text in French to the facing English translation. And although the stated aim is "to be as literal as is consistent with modern English prose, to allow readers to study the Anglo-Norman on the facing page" (21), her translations are not merely literal but also elegant, imbued with an admirable sense of rhythm and poetry.

In sum, this collection of texts addressing the spiritual needs of the faithful is a fine debut to The French of England Translation Series. Not only is the volume an excellent work of scholarship, it also fulfills its stated aim of allowing scholars of English to become familiar with the interrelated literature and culture of the French of medieval England. Furthermore, it demonstrates the vitality of the French language in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century England.

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Author Biography

Carol Harvey

University of Winnipeg