14.05.09, Partridge & Kwakkel, eds. Author, Reader, Book

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William Kuskin

The Medieval Review 14.05.09

Partridge, Stephen, and Erik Kwakkel. Author, Reader, Book: Medieval Authorship in Theory and Practice. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012. Pp. x, 310. ISBN: 9780802099341.

Reviewed by:
William Kuskin
University of Colorado, Boulder

Author, Reader, Book: Medieval Authorship in Theory and Practice, edited by Stephen Partridge and Erik Kawkkel, contains an introduction and nine essays in chronological order. Partridge's introduction explains that the collection was prompted by a conversation at the Thirty-Fourth Medieval Workshop at Green College in 2004 at the University of British Columbia about, on the one hand, the enduring power of Alastair Minnis's Medieval Theory of Authorship: Scholastic Literary Attitudes in the Later Middle Ages, 2nd edition (University of Pennsylvania, 2008) and, on the other, the practical and intertwined manifestations of medieval authorial, codicological, and readerly authority. The past two decades of work in Medieval Studies has produced significant conclusions in both of these areas, advancing the complexity medieval vernacular authorship and participating in the overall consolidation of the study of author, reader, and book into a coherent field, the history of the book. The project of returning to the relationship between authorship and book production is a timely one.

The collection opens with an expansive and definitive essay by Alastair Minnis, "The Trouble with Theology: Ethical Poetics and the Ends of Scripture." Revisiting the accessus ad auctores tradition, Minnis reads medieval theological discussions of Aristotle, touching upon Sir Thomas Walsingham's Prohemia poetarum, Averroes's Middle Commentary on Aristotle's Poetics (translated into Latin by Hermann the German in 1256), and Bonaventure's Breviloquium, before focusing in on Roger Bacon. Minnis argues that Bacon anticipates most fully Petrarch's and Boccaccio's views on poetic authority. "Here, then, was the trouble with theology," he writes: "the fact that it shared certain styles and methods of literary procedure with the writings of the poets, who habitually were branded as liars, obliged generation after generation of medieval theologians to defend the epistemological and moral credentials of their subject and the 'scientific' basis of its knowledge…and yet--during his earthly ministry the Son of God, Jesus Christ himself, had preached with humble and homely parables, thereby rendering his message accessible to all, even the most lowly" (32-33). The trouble with theology is, therefore, that the overlapping relationship between biblical and poetical authority blurs any categorical distinction between the two. Minnis concludes, "no issue has proved more troublesome within the history of the church" (34).

The essays immediately following Minnis's are more tightly focused on single authors. Sebastian Coxon's "Wit, Laughter, and Authority in Walter Map's De nugis curialium (Courtiers' Trifles)" examines authorial self-fashioning in Walter Map's unfinished collection of witticisms. Coxton translates and comments upon the first- and a third-person narratives that style Map as an engaged courtier, unafraid to produce biting commentary on the players in Henry II's court. The essay concludes with a useful appendix of passages in Latin. Erik Kwakkel's "Late Medieval Text Collections: A Codicological Typology Based on Single-Author Manuscripts," attempts to take Malcolm Parkes's foundational essay, "The Influence of the Concepts of Ordinatio and Compliatio on the Development of the Book," a step further by using Middle Dutch manuscripts to develop a typology for booklets in manuscript assembly: Type 1, The Manuscript Copied in One Go; Type 2, The "Booklet" Copied in One Go; Type 3, Copied in Sessions--A Bundle of Production Units; and Type 4, Copied in Sessions--Extending an Existing Production Unit. Anita Obermeier's "The Censorship Trope in Geoffrey Chaucer's Manciple's Tale as Ovidian Metaphor in a Gowerian and Richardian Context," reads that tale as essential to Chaucer's authorial self-fashioning. Obermeier counts three self-critical "censorship scenarios" corresponding to Chaucer's roles as translator in the Legend of Good Women, compiler in the Retraction, and the strategy of authorship in the Manciple's Tale (81). She argues that Chaucer was drawn to Ovid's poetic production in exile, and that the Manciple's Tale constructs a direct, albeit veiled, criticism of Richard in which Chaucer is the Manciple, the Crow is Gower, and Apollo is Richard. Stephen Partridge's essay, "'The Makere of this Boke': Chaucer's Retraction and the Author as Scribe and Compiler," takes up critical studies concerned with the place of the Retraction in the Canterbury Tales, such as Charles Owen's The Manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales (D.S. Brewer, 1991) and Míceál Vaughan's "Creating Comfortable Boundaries: Scribes, Editors, and the Invention of the Parson's Tale" (in Rewriting Chaucer: Culture, Authority, and the Idea of the Authentic Text, 1400-1602, eds. Thomas A. Prendergast and Barbara Kline; Ohio State Press, 1999). Partridge suggests that Chaucer exercised intentional control not only over the Retraction but also over the rubrics and the layout of the text. As a result, Chaucer creates the Canterbury Tales as a book by inhabiting the roles of poet and scribe at once.

The remaining four essays focus on fifteenth- and sixteenth-century writing. Deborah McGrady's "Reading for Authority: Portraits of Christine de Pizan and Her Readers" argues that Christine uses reading as a mode of crafting authority, shaping herself as "a new type of lay reader" of clerical and secular culture (157). McGrady discusses how Christine's self-portraits in prose and in the illustrations across MS Harley 4431, the copy of her collected works presented to the queen of France, create her as reader and author, concluding that "Christine's authorial identity was first and foremost her mastery of reading skills; before every claiming herself an author, Christine shaped her authorial identity around her status as an unparalleled reader" (175). Kristy Campbell's "Vernacular Auctoritas in Late Medieval England: Writing after the Constitutions," argues that although Bishop Reginald Pecock has been understood as complying with Arundel's Constitutions, "it is more likely that Pecock was shaping his own response--perhaps to supplement, extend, or even replace official legislation--to what worried him so much about religion in fifteenth- century England: the spectre of disunity and the spread of untested, multitudinous opinion" (181). Campbell explains that what appears to be self-censorship in Pecock is, in fact, evidence of his idiosyncratic "project of lay education that would do a more systematic job of getting people thinking in more uniform, orthodox ways" (184). Iain Macleod Higgins's "Master Henryson and Father Aesop" presents a textured reading Henryson's fictional encounter with Aesop in the center of the Morall Fabillis. Higgins views Henryon as creating Aesop's authority by depicting the Roman Aesop, rather than the more common and comedic Phrygian Aesop, precisely to appropriate that authority. This allows Henryson both to assert and to manipulate the fables under the rubric of what Higgins calls "the paradox of the Aesopic fable: a paltry thing, almost subliterary, that nevertheless contains something as grand as wisdom" (205). The collection ends with Mark Vessey's "Erasmus's

Lucubrationes: Genesis of a Literary Oeuvre," which examines the 1515 edition of the Lucubrationes (from the Latin, lucubrare, "to burn the midnight oil"), in terms of title, bibliographical contents, and biographical data.

What does one make of Author, Reader, and Book overall? One powerful strength of Minnis's opening essay is that it cautions against any easy division between Latin theology and secular poetics. The trouble with theology is not only that the Bible grants authority to poetry and parable, but also that the recognition that theology has much to say about poetics troubles any current scholarship that would set up a categorical opposition between theological doctrine and vernacular literary interpretation. Still, many of the essays following Minnis's seem focused on developing fairly rigid categories premised on a modern sense of authorship. For example, Partridge acknowledges Adam Pinkhurst as the scribe of the Ellesmere manuscript but then effectively eliminates him from the production process by attributing complete control to Chaucer. In this way, Author, Reader, and Bookis ironically unwilling to cede a very modern notion of authorial self-fashioning as a category that dominates book production and literary interpretation even as it demonstrates the ways that medieval literary culture is cross cut by a unique set of tensions. A number of the essays in the second half of the collection- -McGrady's, Campbell's, and Higgins's--recognize more fully the dynamic interplay of roles that create literary authority, and are thus more alert to the state of the history of the book today. Still, even in these essays, Author, Reader, and Book is silent on a large body of scholarship concerned with medieval and early modern literary culture. Bibliographical studies that bear directly on the topics at hand, such as C. Paul Christianson's study of the London Bridge Tenements and Paul Needham's discussions of binding, receive no notice, and major studies of authorship such as Seth Lerer's Chaucer and His Readers (Princeton, 1996) and Jennifer Summit's Lost Property (University of Chicago, 2000) are completely neglected. As a result, Author, Reader, and Bookappears somewhat inconsistent in its view of medieval authorship and insular, if not antiquated, in its approach to literary production.

A collection of essays is, by definition, more variegated than a monograph. Author, Reader, and Book is tightly edited--many of the essays are clearly in dialogue with one another--and, containing eleven tables and illustrations, as well as extensive notes and a bibliography, it is well produced. It is particularly useful for its focus important but often overlooked authors: Bacon, Christine de Pizan, Pecock, and Henryson. That it is pointedly disengaged from a significant part of the scholarly conversation concerning its topic is surprising; nevertheless, Author, Reader, and Book remains a valuable contribution to our understanding of the material and intellectual production of literary authority.

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Author Biography

William Kuskin

University of Colorado, Boulder