Please join us for a celebration of three new publications from medievalists in Yale's English Department.
Jessica Brantley's Reading in the Wilderness: Private Devotion and Public Performance in Late Medieval England ; Alastair Minnis's Fallible Authors: Chaucer's Pardoner and Wife of Bath; and Roberta Frank's publication of Nicholas Howe's posthumous Writing the Map of Anglo-Saxon England are all just out this month.
* Just as twenty-first-century technologies like blogs and wikis have transformed the once private act of reading into a public enterprise, devotional reading experiences in the Middle Ages were dependent upon an oscillation between the solitary and the communal. In Reading in the Wilderness, Jessica Brantley uses tools from both literary criticism and art history to illuminate Additional MS 37049, an illustrated Carthusian miscellany housed in the British Library. This revealing artifact, Brantley argues, closes the gap between group spectatorship and private study in late medieval England.
Drawing on the work of W. J. T. Mitchell, Michael Camille, and others working at the image-text crossroads, Reading in the Wilderness addresses the manuscript’s texts and illustrations to examine connections between reading and performance within the solitary monk’s cell and also outside. Brantley reimagines the medieval codex as a site where the meanings of images and words are performed, both publicly and privately, in the act of reading.
Jessica Brantley is Associate Professor of English at Yale University.
* Can an outrageously immoral man or a scandalous woman teach morality or lead people to virtue? Does personal fallibility devalue one's words and deeds? Is it possible to separate the private from the public, to segregate individual failing from official function? Chaucer addressed these perennial issues through two problematic authority figures, the Pardoner and the Wife of Bath. The Pardoner dares to assume official roles to which he has no legal claim and for which he is quite unsuited. We are faced with the shocking consequences of the belief, standard for the time, that immorality is not necessarily a bar to effective ministry. Even more subversively, the Wife of Bath, who represents one of the most despised stereotypes in medieval literature, the sexually rapacious widow, dispenses wisdom of the highest order.
Chaucer's Pardoner and Wife of Bath are revealed as interconnected aspects of a single radical experiment wherein the relationship between objective authority and subjective fallibility is confronted as never before.
Alastair Minnis is Professor of English at Yale University. He is the author of many articles and books, including Medieval Theory of Authorship, and is coeditor of The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, vol. 2: The Middle Ages.
* Eminent Anglo-Saxonist Nicholas Howe explores how the English, in the centuries before the Norman Conquest, located themselves both literally and imaginatively in the world. His elegantly written study focuses on Anglo-Saxon representations of place as revealed in a wide variety of texts in Latin and Old English, as well as in diagrams of holy sites and a single map of the known world found in British Library, Cotton Tiberius B v. The scholar’s investigations are supplemented and aided by insights gleaned from his many trips to physical sites.
The Anglo-Saxons possessed a remarkable body of geographical knowledge in written rather than cartographic form, Howe demonstrates. To understand fully their cultural geography, he considers Anglo-Saxon writings about the places they actually inhabited and those they imagined. He finds in Anglo-Saxon geographic images a persistent sense of being far from the center of the world, and he discusses how these migratory peoples narrowed that distance and developed ways to define themselves.
The late Nicholas Howe was professor of English, University of California at Berkeley, and the author of several books, including Migration and Mythmaking in Anglo-Saxon England. Roberta Frank is Douglas Tracy Smith Professor of English at Yale University