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21.09.10 Barclay/Reddan (eds.), The Feeling Heart in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

21.09.10 Barclay/Reddan (eds.), The Feeling Heart in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

The heart, the editors note of this fascinating collection note in their introduction, is both a "physical organ" and a "key conceptual device related to emotions, cognition, the self and identity, and the body" (1). In a collection that includes literary scholars, art historians, historians, theologians and musicologists, The Feeling Heart explores the meanings of the heart in medieval and early modern society and culture. The twelve essays are divided into three sections, each focusing primarily on one way of thinking about the heart: "Meaningful Hearts," "Embodied Hearts," and "Productive Hearts." Even more than is usually the case with collections of essays, the methodological, topical, and chronological range means most readers are likely to focus only on one or two essays, but the whole repays engagement for the ways it shows the role of the heart in the larger history of emotions.

Section 1, "Meaningful Hearts," focuses on the heart's "significant cultural work in secular and sacred imaginations." The essays demonstrate the value of the focus on one symbol. Patricia Simons focuses on the flaming heart, a heart depicted outside the body that represented strong and passionate emotions and ideas. Chloé Vondenhoff focuses on literary representations, with a focus on how the imagery of the heart is transformed in the translations of Chrétien de Troyes, Yvain from French into Old Norse as the Ivens Saga. The Norse tradition connected the heart to courage, not feeling. While Chrétien saw the heart attended by the senses, Old Norse had a metaphysical model in which the senses do not impinge on the heart. The comparison illuminates different ways cultures understand the heart. Carol Williams takes us to song, and points out that the singing voice was seen as the main expressive agent of the heart. In their songs, troubadours developed representations of the feeling heart that would be "fundamental" to all love songs. (73) Finally, Bronwyn Reddan looks at the "Battle for Control of the Heart in Charles Perrault's Dialogue de l'Amour and l'Amitie (1660)." She argues that Perrault reworks Mme. de Scudery on love: where Scudery had focused on the mutuality and reciprocity of love, Perrault focuses on love as military conquest, with imperial and military metaphors defining the process. Reddan's essay shows the separation of mind and heart in the late 17th century: the integration of intellect and emotion that was a characteristic of earlier periods has disappeared.

The second section focuses on embodied hearts, invocations of the heart that are grounded in physical experience. Kathryn Smithies introduces us to Jean Bodel, clerk, writer, and member of a lay confraternity, who entered a leprosarium in 1202, and wrote his farewells in a long poem, Les Congés. Here the heart is the one part of his body that still works properly, and it gives him courage to face his illness and death. Clare Davidson examines the heart in Middle English, where it is an organ of knowledge and reason. What she calls the "cognizant heart" has a capacity for what she calls "emotional thinking" (113), which disrupts the separation of reason and emotion. But it is also a site of exchange between lovers, making love an "embodied emotional experience" (124). Colin Yeo also looks at embodied images, using a Bakhtinian framework to explore the grotesque in early modern English poetry. He shows how Shakespeare, Spenser, Sidney and Donne drew on scientific research to connect love and hearts to images of grotesque bodies and death. These images were not pretty, but disturbing. In a final chapter in this section, Susan Broomhall shows how the tombs that Catherine de' Medici built for the hearts of her husband and sons represent her own grief and her political agency. The hearts of dead kings were central to Catherine's political program. Her monument to contain Henri II's heart emphasized that because their hearts had been united in life, he lived on in her, and she was not quite a widow. She claimed political power in his name. In constructing cardiotaphs for her sons Francois II and Charles IX, she ensured that they were identified both as Valois kings and her sons. Yet by focusing on her own grief, she made the monuments to the last Valois kings personal rather than communal.

The final section of the book focuses on "Productive Hearts." These are hearts which act in the world. June-Ann Greeley shows how St. Anselm of Canterbury used heart language in both novel and conventional ways, revealing his spiritual and emotional struggles. He defines his desire to have the heart of Jesus enter his heart. He repeatedly laments his heart's failings, but also looks to open his heart to love and mercy. The heart is central to his spiritual life and struggle. Eleonora Rai continues to explore the spiritual uses of the heart in her essay on the "Heart of Mary" in 17th and 18th century Jesuit devotions. While heart devotions began with devotion to the heart of Jesus--which resulted in the importance of the Sacred Heart as an object of devotion in early modern Europe--over time Marian devotions linked her heart to that of Jesus. As part of the Jesuit focus on the use of material objects to spur devotion, their hearts were used as objects for meditation; devotees reached Jesus' heart by passing through Mary's. Mary's heart was portrayed variously as "pure and sorrowful," "immaculate," and martyred. Rai points out that this devotion has remained a central Roman Catholic focus ever since the 17th century. If the images of the hearts of Mary and Jesus are one material manifestation of the heart, the last two essays in the collection bring us to more individual and idiosyncratic objects. Bridget Millmore examines the love tokens exchanged in 18th century Britain. These were made mostly from copper pennies and half-pennies which were smoothed out and had messages engraved on them. Some included images as well as messages. Often, they had hearts joined in some way, along with phrases like "two hearts together joind forever" (209). But they might also record loss and absence--from death, work, or imprisonment and transportation. While the sentiments expressed were conventional, Millmore's use of material culture and social history enables us to see the role of the heart in the interior lives of ordinary people. In the final essay, Elizabeth C. Macknight examines the private archive of the Comarmond, Baroud, and Liebhaber families, and the way the heart appears in it over time. These vary from the role of the heart in the Comarmond family coat of arms to a small sketch in a 19th century memorandum case. The heart is repeatedly referenced in letters and diaries, demonstrating the ways the heart is implicated in both identities and relationships.

These excellent essays illuminate the heart as a central symbol, a tool for thinking about the world in medieval and early modern Europe. Together they remind us of the varied meaning attached to hearts; they have made me far more self-conscious about the use of the word in current life. While there are connections between the essays--all of them repeatedly refer to the "feeling heart"--they do not make explicit references to each other. At times I wished for more engagement with the implications of all the essays for each other, particularly in relation to chronology. But this is a small complaint about a stimulating collection of essays. It turns out that thinking about the heart in medieval and early modern culture also helps you think about the present.