- A Companion to Alain Chartier (c. 1385–1430): Father of French Eloquence ed. by Daisy Delogu, Joan E. McRae, and Emma Cayley
This excellent volume—the medieval author’s first ‘Companion’—consolidates the increasing critical attention directed to Alain Chartier over the past decade, its essays collectively making a persuasive case for him as ‘the most widely influential European writer of the fifteenth century’ (p. 279). Fourteen chapters are divided between four parts, locating Chartier in relation to his cultural, literary, and material context (Part One); proposing a range of approaches to his work (Part Two); focusing on the idea of ‘textual communities’as a conceptual principle of both authorship and reception (Part Three); and mapping the cultural and chronological reach of his influence (Part Four). An important shared [End Page 584] objective of the contributions is to promote the permeability of category boundaries that have previously operated in Chartier scholarship—between his professional identities as writer and diplomat, between his prose and verse compositions, and between Latin and vernacular works in his œuvre. This objective is pursued effectively through the practice of revisiting works in several chapters across the book, which elaborates in different contexts the cultural significance of well-known texts, such as the Belle Dame sans mercy, as well as drawing attention to important, less appreciated pieces, like Le Livre des quatre dames. The chapters themselves constitute a satisfying combination of synthesizing essays (such as the elegant overview of Chartier’s œuvre furnished by James Laidlaw, or Camille Serchuk’s examination of all thirty-two illuminated manuscripts) and critical analyses (Andrea Tarnowski’s study of the persona as a figure apart, or Daisy Delogu’s performative approach to gender roles). They are uniformly engaging and lucid, and strike a commendable balance between accessibility to the less familiar reader (the volume could readily be recommended on undergraduate reading lists, for example) and stimulating interest for the more specialist scholar. Of particular note is the collection’s very successful realization of its aim to offer Chartier’s texts as ‘a point of entry into larger questions’ (p. 11): the essays not only augment and richly contextualize our specific understanding of the writer—exploring the role of poet as public servant that he pioneered (Adrian Armstrong) or establishing his significance in medieval debates about chivalry (Craig Taylor); they also deploy Chartier to map key concerns of late medieval literary culture, furthering our appreciation of the early printed-book marketplace (Olivia Robinson), or of the power of poetry to effect political and social change during the Hundred Years’ War (Deborah McGrady). In this respect, the volume is of great value to scholars of the later Middle Ages more broadly, a value that could only be enhanced by an increased use of cross-referencing between chapters, to aid the reader approaching its essays selectively rather than sequentially—this would be especially helpful, for instance, between synthesizing chapters on influence in Part Four and earlier contributions on context in Part One. In sum, this collection is an exemplary piece of ‘Companion’ scholarship, which establishes emphatically Chartier’s importance in medieval French studies and beyond.