20.01.03 Gastle/Kelemen (eds.), Later Middle English Literature, Materiality, and Culture

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Hannah Ryley

The Medieval Review 20.01.03

Gastle, Brian and Erick Keleman, eds. Later Middle English Literature, Materiality, and Culture: Essays in Honor of James M. Dean. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2018. pp. xix, 248. ISBN: 978-1-61149-676-5 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Hannah Ryley
Magdalen College and Faculty of English, University of Oxford

This edited collection of eleven essays--compiled in honour of James M. Dean--achieves its stated aim to explore the "cultural, material, and aesthetic aspects of later medieval English literature" (xi). Later Middle English Literature, Materiality, and Culture is well-titled: it does what it says on the tin. The focus is truly "later" Middle English literature, with the essays dealing predominantly with texts and objects datable to the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. While the essays themselves are somewhat scattershot in the array of topics covered and methods used, this is often the case in festschrift-style collections. The editors make efforts to account for the range of contributions and show how Dean's own work presages such approaches. In their own ways, all the contributions engage seriously with materiality and culture.

The introduction by Brian Gastle and Erick Kelemen (xi-xix) outlines Dean's scholarship in full, which includes editing a range of teaching and other scholarly editions, a major study of the senectus mundi topos (The World Grown Old in Later Medieval Literature, 1997), various studies of Gower and Chaucer, and a number of other publications. Gastle and Kelemen also introduce the contributors: Mark Amsler, Craig E. Bertolet, John M. Ganim, Brian Gastle, Erick Kelemen, Scott Lightsey, Kathryn McKinley, Gabrielle Parkin, Karla Taylor, Joseph Turner, Lawrence Warner, R. F. Yeager, and Christian K. Zachler. Notably, the texts and topics covered in the eleven essays collected here are wide ranging, and each author builds on the thematic focus of the book by engaging meaningfully with material texts and cultural considerations.

Primarily directed at fellow medievalist literary scholars, the essays in this book also tick off several staple texts from the typical diet of undergraduate courses in Middle English literature. These include: Chaucer's Wife of Bath, Franklin, and Shipman; various works by Lydgate; Mandeville's Travels; the Book of Margery Kempe; and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which may lend this book a broader appeal as a supplement to undergraduate and graduate taught courses. To their credit, and in addition to these canonical works, many of the contributors investigate a wider selection of vernacular and Latin texts from the later medieval period, setting them within their social, cultural, and material contexts. There is only intermittent reference to critical theory, and no theoretical approaches are seriously adopted in any sustained way. While heavy emphasis on theory was never the aim of this collection, there was a missed opportunity here to suggest the ways in which these essays might participate in those kinds of debates.

As will be seen in what follows, the essays have been helpfully gathered into two parts: "Textual Material" (Part I), and "Material Texts" (Part II). This loose arrangement results in a reasonable balance between the two halves. This review focusses more on the second part than the first. Although there is no afterword or epilogue to offer a summary or response to the work of this collection as a whole, the introduction by the editors does clearly articulate a framework for understanding the essays as a collective, and points out their roots in Dean's body of research. Indeed, in a couple of the essays the authors themselves expressly voice their debts of gratitude to Dean's scholarship (Ganim, Warner). The introduction concludes by inviting scholars of medieval literature to engage critically with their own research practices.

Part I, entitled "Textual Material," is organised around literary traditions of various stripes. The first essay in this section is by Amsler, "More Than Words Can Say?: Late Medieval Affective Vocabularies" (3-24), in which the author identifies the ways in which Latin and English vocabularies of affecciouns, or feelings, function in Middle English texts. Amsler draws on texts by Chaucer and Margery Kempe, other devotional writing, and Latin grammars. Next, Taylor's essay, "The Motives of Reeds: The Wife of Bath's Midas and Literary Tradition" (25-41), also considers Chaucer. Here, Taylor analyses Chaucer's treatment of Ovid, in the context of a wider Ovidian tradition. Miscommunications in Ovid's story of Midas's ears enable Chaucer and the Wife of Bath to resist and subvert inherited literary tradition. Moving on to Zacher's essay, "A Taxonomy of Medieval English Travel Writings" (43-56) characterises pilgrims as a distinct category of traveller, and offers ways of classifying other "types" of medieval travellers. It also explores the ways in which this taxonomy is apparent in textual witnesses from the period.

The other three essays in this half of the collection continue in their eclectic range of approaches to "traditions," broadly construed. In "Lady Bertilak and the Rhetoric of Women in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" (57-70), Turner draws on a range of rhetoricians to argue that Lady Bertilak's embodied rhetoric in private spaces calls attention to women's roles in shaping public events. Ganim's "Anarchy in the UK: Chaos and Community in Late Medieval Political Writings" (71-89) argues for a more pervasive anarchy of the everyday, which is shown to suffuse medieval political poems and confessional manuals. Ganim demonstrates that this anarchism is then taken up by nineteenth- and twentieth-century representations of the medieval period. The final essay in this section is by Yeager: "Amans the Memorious" (91-103). Reading Gower's Confessio Amantis in the light of Borges' story Funes el memorioso, Yeager examines Gower's portrayal of time and memory in the past, present, and future.

"Part II: Material Texts" turns from literary traditions to physical objects and the social behaviours associated with them. This section begins with Kathryn McKinley's essay "Ampullae and Badges: Pilgrim Paraphernalia in Late Medieval England" (107-121), which sketches the connections between extant medieval artefacts, such as pilgrims' flasks and badges, to actual medieval pilgrimage practices. These historical practices are then linked to the representation of pilgrims in literary works by Chaucer and Langland. The essay's arguments are supported by some lengthy quotations, and illustrated with four black and white images of ampullae (111, 112) and badges (114, 115).

In "'Of crafty bildyng & werkyng most roial': Lydgate's Allusions to the Crafts and the Role of Making in Medieval Civic Poetry" (127-146), Lightsey offers a sustained close-reading of Lydgate's Troy Book, which generates ample evidence for the poet's interest in craftsmanship. Lightsey supplements aspects of the argument with references to Lydgate's The Fall of Princes, Legend of St George, and Henry VI's Triumphal Entry of 1432. The footnotes for this essay are particularly fulsome, and include more substantial discursive writing than the apparatus accompanying other essays in the collection--perhaps these sections were bumped from the main essay into the footnotes?

The next essay, "Read with Your Hands and Not with Your Eyes: Touching Books of Hours" (147-166), by Parkin, theorizes touch as a kind of reading practice. It offers a deeply tactile consideration of the performance of devotion. The essay makes particular reference to two Books of Hours: the sixteenth-century Cinot Hours (University of Delaware's Morris Library, MSS 095.031) and the fifteenth-century John Browne Hours (Free Library of Philadelphia). Parkin evocatively describes Books of Hours as "haptic primers" (163) for women. It is a shame that the reproductions of the Cinot Hours, supplied in colour (125, 126), and in black and white (156, 157, 161) are of much poorer quality than images used elsewhere in the book. The quality of the image showing a close-up of Mary's face (157) is particularly disappointing because it is too grainy to show the damage apparently caused by devotional wetting/kissing, which is the issue under discussion.

Bertolet's essay, "The Tales of Two Transactions: The Franklin, the Shipman, Feudalism and the Medieval Atlantic Maritime World System" (167-188), examines two transactions recounted in The Canterbury Tales, one for one hundred francs (in "The Shipman's Tale") and another for one thousand pounds (promised in "The Franklin's Tale"). These transactions are situated within the changing economic context of Chaucer's day, and its maritime environments. Other authorities on Chaucer's writing and on economic and maritime history are liberally cited, and-- as in Lightsey's contribution--the footnotes are notably loquacious.

Finally, Warner presents something a little different: a census of Owen Rogers's 1561 print edition of Piers Plowman and the Crede (STC 19908), and goes on to detail the edition's tricky publication history. The images are pertinent to Warner's claims and show the title pages of three books (191, 193, 194). Warner's contribution invites further study more evidently than any other in the volume by offering up an essay paired with a quick-and-dirty census of thirty-two extant copies of Rogers's Crede (189-218, of which 199-218 is the census).

The endmatter is largely accurate and well edited. The bibliography is formatted well; spot checks did not identify anything to be missing. However, there are some small errors and oddities. For example, Mary Shelley, spelled accurately everywhere else, becomes 'Shelley, Mary Wolestonecraft' [sic] in the index. Again in the index, it was perhaps gratuitous to list exhaustively by name Justin Bieber, Edmund Muskie, and Barack Obama (all of whom have publicly cried), but not to include anywhere "tears" or even "medieval tears," the somatic behaviour that is the point of Amsler's argument (10). The index is otherwise judicious in scope and follows typical, useful conventions.

This collection presents a diverse array of essays which consider both textual material and material texts in interesting ways for those researching materiality and culture in later medieval literature. Appropriately, given the honorand's fruitful career as a "teacher-scholar" (xi), the coverage of several key Middle English literary texts may also appeal to undergraduates and other students. The relatively close focus on the "later" period of Middle English is welcome and proves effective in this collection.

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