14.09.09, Armstrong, Astell, and Chickering, eds., Magistra Doctissima

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Julia Bolton Holloway

The Medieval Review 14.09.09

Armstrong, Dorsey, Ann W. Astell, Howell Chickering. Magistra Doctissima: Essays in Honor of Bonnie Wheeler. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2013. Pp. viii, 274. ISBN: 978-1-58044-177-3 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Julia Bolton Holloway
University of Colorado, Boulder

This is a fascinating, though uneven, gathering of essays to honor a vibrant and generous colleague. Professor Bonnie Wheeler's areas of teaching and editing expertise are Old and Middle English Literature, Arthurian Literature, and the literature of medieval women. These areas form the divisions of this book, the last fracturing into the woman warrior and visionary (Joan of Arc), cloistered women and regal women, while its jacket shows Christine de Pizan teaching her young son from her book written for him. It is edited by Dorsey Armstrong, Ann W. Astell and Howell Chickering. The volume's essays vary between those giving primary materials for their research, particularly those of Giles Constable, William Chester Jordan, Anna Bagnall Yardley, Annemarie Weyl Carr, William Clark, and Elizabeth A.R. Brown, towards the end of the volume. Essays discussing the reception of medieval texts and figures through time by Toshiyki Takamiya, Edward Donald Kennedy, Alan Lupack, Donald Hoffman, Elizabeth S. Sklar, Kevin Harty, and Nadia Margolis appear in the first half of the volume, as does Nadia Margolis' essay combining both contextualization and reception.

Following the Introduction by its editors, Ann W. Anstell and Howell Chickering, is an essay by Toshiyuki Takamiya's "Kiyoko Nagase and Her 'Grendal's Mother'," discussing the Japanese woman poet's rendering of Beowulf, followed by three essays on Chaucer, the first by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen investigating Chaucer's Anglo-centric demeaning of the underlying British world of faery, the second by Lorraine Kochanske Stock on the 'Loathly Hag' in the Wife of Bath's Tale as a misconception, the third by auto-prescient Stephen Stallcup on Arcite's mortal injury in which he proposes the lectio difficilior concerning the event.

The Arthurian section that follows gives us Maurice Keen on Glastonbury, Geoffrey Ashe on Geoffrey of Monmouth's Prophecies of Merlin, D. Thomas Hanks, Jr., on Malory's oral prose style, Edward Donald Kennedy on the Scots Lancelot of the Laik and Malory's Morte Darthur, both seen as reader response retelling of the French Lancelot do Lac, Alan Lupack on the populist reception of Tennyson's "Sir Galahad," concluding with Donald L. Hoffman and Elizabeth S. Sklar on the World Wide Web's more shallow reception of the Matter of Britain, "Googling the Grail." Maurice Keen's essay posits the Matter of Britain in the later political contextualizing of the tale that swirled about Glastonbury. Geoffrey Ashe studies Welsh Geoffrey of Monmouth not just in the English context and reception but that of all Europe, a text that wrote of the past--but also prophesies the future. Yet this is the first time I wished this volume had transgressed beyond temporal boundaries, seeing Sybilline prophecies, Welsh triads, Merlin's Prophecies, Dante's three beasts, St Birgitta of Sweden's Prophecies, Blake's Prophecies, as part of a continuing skein in European literature, many of these prophecies yoked together in medieval manuscripts.

The third part of the volume is dedicated to Joan of Arc and again veers from contextual study with Kelly R. DeVries' "'Because it was Paris'," to Kevin Harty on Joan during World War I (the Great War), and Nadia Margolis on Joan as seen by left-wing writers Bertolt Brecht, Jean Anouilh and Lillian Hellman, in Germany, France and America, in which this last essay also superbly contextualizes the three dramatic presentations, the last against the backdrop of the HUAC.

The fourth part is dedicated to nuns and spirituality. Giles Constable ably discusses a letter by the Abbot of Clairvaux to the Abbess of Fontrevault, presenting it diplomatically and in translation. William Chester Jordan discusses the impoverished and somewhat unruly thirteenth-century nuns of Bival, in so doing continuing the work of his doctissimus magister Joseph Strayer. Anne Bagnall Yardley discusses the presence of Mary Magdalene at Barking Abbey's Mandatum pauperum, seeing its roots in the Regularis Concordia (roots which can also be detected in the Fleury Orléans manuscript, which may have come from Winchester and where Mary Magdalen's singing echoes that of Lazarus hauntingly and operatically). Annemarie Weyl Carr's essay on Cretan El Greco's Byzantine use of the purple (red) mantle to represent Christ's flesh in the 'Espolio' acquired by SMU's Meadows Museum presents a contextual biculturalism of profound theological and political value.

The fifth and final part of the Festschrift is on Royal Women. William W. Clark describes the generous patronage of the twelfth-century divorced Constance de France, daughter and sister to kings of France, through the study of primary documents and their seals. Elizabeth A.R. Bowen's essay on Jeanne d'Evreaux's endowment of Saint Denis in 1343 is a fitting parallel study to that by William Clark, demonstrating the generosity of wealth and privilege by royal women, this time through inscriptions placed on relics as well as recorded in the French charters which are carefully transcribed in the essay's notes.

The volume celebrating the collegiality of a much loved editor and teacher ends with the vitae of the contributors and is indexed.

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Julia Bolton Holloway

University of Colorado, Boulder