- Isle of the saints: monastic settlement and Christian community in early Ireland (review)
- Australian and New Zealand Association of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Inc.)
- Volume 9, Number 2, December 1991
- p. pp. 139-140
- View Citation
Reviews 139 subversion of historical study of the material and social conditions of literature. As an account of historical states of mind the argument has some similarities to Foucault's theory, but with the difference that Berger's theory is defined as a method which 'substitutes hypothetical for historical causes because its aim is to describe cultural objects as phenomena in their ownrightrather than account for them as effects of "the background'" (p. 46). In a later essay Berger's method leads to an analysis of More's Utopia in which the green world of Utopia is interpreted as an ironic lesson that utopianism is a condition of hatred of life, 'Utopian misanthropy' (p. 156). In contrast to what he sees as Utopian enor Berger appeals to an order of liberal individualism, 'the hope that human beings can be trusted to solve their problems through the ordinary informal activity of self-regulation and self-criticism, persuasion and argument, cooperation and compromise' (p. 237). Berger's commitment to explicit theory makes this collection of early essays a significant contribution to cunent debate about literary interpretation and history as well as a clear statement of some main directions in American studies in the Renaissance. Axel Kruse Department of English University of Sydney Bitel, Lisa M., Isle of the saints: monastic settlement and Christian community in early Ireland, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, 1990; cloth; pp. xvi, 268; 4 maps, 11 figures; R.R.P. US$28.95 + 1 0 % overseas. This book does not begin well, but in the end is well worth reading. A reference on p. 7 to 'Some, such as Columban, Johannes Scottus, and Eriugena', raises doubts about not only the book but also the editorial process which produced it, even though the one and only original theologian of the early Middle Ages is reassembled as 'Johannes Eriugena' in the last chapter (p. 227). The footnote to this sentence, 'A few Irish historians have studied the monasteries of pre-Norman Ireland, but they have not focused on the social context of monastic communities' (pp. 7-8, n. 20 on p. 8), in its combined reference to John Ryan's Irish monasticism and Kathleen Hughes' The church in early Irish society is disgraceful. Apart from nitpicking that Hughes is not Irish, her book (1966) and Ryan's (1931) are from two different eras of historical scholarship. Putting the church, which Hughes like Bitel saw as taken over by monasticism, in its social context is obviously what Hughes' book was all about. Bitel's book is from a different era again. Its value derives to a considerable extent from the anthropologically-informed analysis it brings to bear on Irish society. Yet the approach of Biteltoher material has more in common with that of Ryan than of 140 Reviews Hughes. The trouble with Irish monasticism was that Ryan threw together the evidence of ten centuries to get at his subject. Bitel defines hers more nanowly as 'monks in Ireland between A. D. 800 and 1200' (p. 1). However, this does not prevent her drawing extensively on pre-Viking sources for Patrick, Columba, Columbanus, Brigit and so forth. She says her concern is with the longue durte via hagiography of debatable date; however, it is a pity not to use such chronological signposts as exist. In respect to exacting use of sources Maire Herbert's Iona, Kells, and Deny (cf. Parergon, n.s., 8 (1990) pp. 149-50) contrasts favourably with the book under review here. Yet the former has a limited if important subject, while Bitel provides a broad nanative treatment which is another major value of her book. It would be easy but mistaken for a discerning reader of its introduction to dismiss Isle of the saints. Bitel asks the right questions of her subject and organizes the answers in an instructive way. Thefirstchapter is an interesting discussion of monasteries in the early Irish landscape, well-informed from the recent archaeological and geographical literature, even if the opportunity is missed to evoke landscape from the Hisperica famina, a seventh-century source cited in the next chapter on the monastic enclosure. Chapter three introduces an original contribution with the statement, 'While...