16.04.09, Kerby-Fulton, Thompson, and Baechle, eds., New Directions in Medieval Manuscript Studies and Reading Practices

Main Article Content

Danielle Magnusson

The Medieval Review 16.04.09

Kerby-Fulton, Kathryn, John J. Thompson, and Sarah Baechle, eds. New Directions in Medieval Manuscript Studies and Reading Practices: Essays in Honor of Derek Pearsall. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2014. pp. xxii, 551. ISBN: 978-0-268-03327-9 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Danielle Magnusson
Trinity College Dublin

The range of topics covered in this impressive volume of essays highlights the influence Derek Pearsall has had on the field of medieval studies. The volume's twenty-four essays represent the best contributions presented at a 2011 conference, New Directions in Medieval Manuscript Studies and Reading Practices in Honour of the 80th Birthday of Derek Pearsall. Including the work of both senior and junior scholars, the collection is organized into seven sections reflecting Pearsall's legacy forging new approaches within the study of late medieval English manuscripts. Each section is prefaced by a foreword from scholars who acted as respondents during the 2011 conference. Overall we have innovative individual essays and an overall successful collection for specialists in medieval literary manuscripts.

In Part I, A.C. Spearing, Oliver Pickering, and Martha Driver carefully define and celebrate "Pearsallian" close reading practices. Spearing's close reading of Troilus and Criseyde, reveals how Chaucer's use of the "autographic 'I'" (13) can be seen as a "reaction against the earlier predominance in medieval culture of the retelling of existing stories" (10), allowing Chaucer a "freer and less predictable kind of discourse" (11). Pickering draws comparisons between Pearsall's lively approach to Middle English literary study and the language of the so-called Outspoken South English Legendary Poet with his characteristic "lively, colloquial, conversational style" (35). Driver considers Pearsall's "readings of earlier works against Shakespeare's plays" (55), finding that his "helpful Shakespearean references elucidate otherwise obscure passages as well as more familiar ones and shed light on medieval characters and narratives while providing both new perspectives and contexts for reading" (65).

Part II acknowledges the work of Pearsall and colleague Elizabeth Salter at the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York. Pearsall and Salter advocated an interdisciplinary approach combining "sensitive readings and exploratory modes of thought" (119), where manuscripts matter as well as "multilingual and European contexts" (119). Using texts with evidence of multilingualism and internationalism, Jocelyn Wogan-Browne argues that "England's participation in the transregional languages of Latin and French" (92) enriched medieval English manuscript culture. Susan Powell revisits Salter's work on the identity of the Second Knight in Wynnere and Wastoure, using new evidence to support and extend Salter's original argument. Inspired by Salter's interest in the internationalism of medieval literature in Britain, Sarah McNamer argues that the Meditationes Vitae Christi may have had its origins in a fourteenth-century Italian text authored by a Poor Clare and "actively censored" (134) by a Franciscan friar. Finally, Katie Ann-Marie Bugyis examines the work of the Red Ink Annotator in the Book of Margery Kemp, demonstrating how his annotations and corrections transform Kemp into "a model not only of affective devotion for laywomen readers but also of perfect contemplation for Carthusians" (139).

Part III contains essays by scholars who attended Pearsall's 1981 York conference--a "milestone in the field of late medieval English manuscript study" (159)--and whose work "continues to explore core aspects of that agenda" (160). Julia Boffey considers how an accretive compilation in the Henry E. Huntington Library, MS HM 136, reveals the many traces left by readers over the years and exposes "the often complex relationships between items copied together in one volume" (172). A. I. Doyle highlights the value of "evidence for actual use of manuscript and printed books in the Middle Ages" (177) through his examination of marginal annotations in a series of manuscripts with associations to St. Mark's Hospital, Bristol, and to John Colman, the last Master of St. Mark's. Carol M. Meale extends earlier work on London, British Library, MS Harley 2252 and its compiler--London mercer and bookseller John Colyns--by considering evidence for a "clustering of booksellers and producers around the Stocks Market" (199) that gives "substance and materiality to Colyns as a man, as a collector of texts both literary and nonliterary" (199). Detailing how Lydgate manuscripts have fared commercially in the twentieth century, A. S. G. Edwards offers insights into how manuscript prices "provide an obvious indicator of both material and cultural value over time" (207).

Parts IV and V present new directions in manuscript studies while showcasing the work of emerging scholars. Hannah Zdansky argues that the scribe of London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero A. x (the Gawain or Pearl-poet manuscript) "created a remarkably inter-national (nation in the Latin sense of the word) manuscript" (245) by showing how the script used demonstrates the "multicultural and multilingual situation in the British Isles" (245). Hilary E. Fox and Theresa O'Byrne both consider aspects of Anglo-Irish literary production, with Fox looking at how James Yonge's translation of the Secreta secretorum reveals "strains of political and economic criticism" (264), and O'Byrne arguing that Oxford, Bodleian Library, e. Museo MS 232 and Longleat MS 29 were likely written by Nicholas Bellewe "in or near Dublin rather than in England by an Anglo-Irish expatriate" (274). Nicole Eddy and Karrie Fuller both turn to marginalia to answer questions relating to readership and reception, with Eddy examining the "echoes of the schoolroom" (302) found in marginal annotations in London, Lambeth Palace Library, MS 491, and Fuller studying how the annotations written by Sir Adrian Fortescue and his family within Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 145 produced a highly personalized copy of Piers Plowman. Taking a different approach to marginalization altogether, Maura Giles-Watson investigates the culture of performance in late medieval and early Renaissance England, convincingly arguing how "the cult of literacy and the academic drama" (344) contributed to the absence of women performers in late-sixteenth century professional playing companies.

Part VI demonstrates how Pearsallian reading strategies, and specifically Pearsall's "remarkable sense of caution" (359), contributes to the study of Chaucerian and post-Chaucerian reading practices. Elizabeth Scala looks at how Chaucer puts the "Nun's Priest's Tale" into conversation with the whole Canterbury Tales collection, suggesting that the "embedded signature of the poet" (369) is revealed through the "density and productiveness of quotation" (366) found in the text. Also concerned with readerly engagements in Chaucerian texts, Sarah Baechle considers how glosses in Latin leave "behind the track of a medieval reader's reaction to the physical object of the poem and its attendant paratexts" (400). Peter Brown provides evidence for the "Balade" in Huntington Library MS HM 111 being the work of a "monk who was a relatively sophisticated reader" (411) of the Male Regle, and suggests that the text "should not be read as merely an inferior version of Hoccleve's Male Regle, but as an extracted lyric with its own independent life" (411). Stephen Partridge considers the number of hands present in Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Eng 530, observing that scholarly uncertainty "raises questions about paleographical method" (442).

In the final section, Pearsall's "capacious and flexible mode of scholarship" (451) is central to three essays offering new insights into Langland studies. Jill Mann discusses the work of the C-reviser, providing evidence for "the weakness of Kane and Donaldson's case for the ‘corruption' of the C-reviser's B manuscript" (464). Applying Pearsall's "scrupulous attention to the material circumstances, constraints, and opportunities of manuscript culture" (467) to her reading of acrostics and the Testament of Love, Melinda Nielsen comments on "our understanding of the dynamic process of composition, publication, and authorial intent in London documentary culture" (467). Finally, Kathryn Kerby-Fulton considers instances of "intelligent scribal behavior" (491) in the Z text, observing that "scribal redactors can rise to poetic and intellectual heights we can at moments mistake for a great poet" (510).

This important volume is a fitting and extensive tribute to a distinguished scholar, bringing together a wide range of finely-researched and well-argued studies closely connected to Derek Pearsall's own research. New Directions records and celebrates Pearsall's impact on medieval studies.

Article Details