- New Directions in Medieval Manuscript Studies and Reading Practices: Essays in Honor of Derek Pearsall eds. Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, John J. Thompson, and Sarah Baechle
In 2012, at the International Medieval Studies Congress in Kalamazoo, I accepted a lift to the annual Chaucer Review dinner with illustrious and highly appropriate company: Martha Driver was in the driver's seat; Derek Pearsall was giving directions. This was not my first meeting with Derek, but it was the perfect showcase of the intelligence, warmth, humour, and passion that often comes across in his writing and is still more striking on encountering him in person: my fellow passenger was preparing a translation of Beowulf into Turkish, which Derek quizzed him on so enthusiastically that his dedication to reaching our destination lapsed. The route we finally took to our destination may not have been the most direct, but the experience was as entertaining as it was educative.
Derek Pearsall's reputation as a scholar in the field of medieval English literary and manuscript studies is well established. This collection, edited by Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, John J. Thompson and Sarah Baechle, is the second assemblage of essays to have been published 'in honor' of Derek's work: the first was a collection titled Middle English Poetry: Texts and Traditions, edited by A.J. Minnis for York Medieval Press in 2001. The editors of this new collection have clearly attempted not only to do justice to Pearsall's long and important career, but to produce the definitive celebration of its achievements: in over 500 pages and 7 'parts', 24 chapters consider various aspects of medieval English literary studies, from Chaucer, Langland and Lydgate, to studies of manuscript culture and audience reception, both medieval and modern. Martha Driver's analytical portrait of 'Derek Pearsall, Secret Shakespearean', emphasizes the 'remarkable breadth' of Pearsall's knowledge, and pulls the reader into what he himself has long recognized as the inherent medievalness of Shakespeare's world. Chapters by A. C. Spearing, A. I. Doyle, Julia Boffey, A. S. G. Edwards, Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, Jill Mann, and others, further reinforce not only Pearsall's status within the field, but the volume's own contribution to it. [End Page 222]
That this tome is intended not just as a celebration of Pearsall's career but as a contribution to the field whose current form he himself helped shape is clearly indicated in the 'new directions' of the title. In this sense, the book looks forward, at the same time as it looks back. Like any good festschrift, this balance between the idea of a legacy——and of what has been accomplished within a given individual's field——and the future——where the same field might now be headed——is carefully maintained. The names of more familiar and well established scholars——Susan Powell, Sarah McNamer, Carol M. Meale, to name but a few——appear alongside those of a next generation of critics. This is a book which is about influence: Pearsall's own influence on criticism in the field in general, but also his influence on individual scholars, their subjects, and their scholarly methods. It addresses some of the crucial issues with which students and researchers work, such as scribal and reception practices, including the copying and handling of specific manuscripts, as well as the legacy and influence of certain texts and authors on both the field and its objects.
A problem with the genre of festschrift writing is that it can tend to celebrate and perpetuate a particular intellectual and scholarly history uncritically, without reflecting on a field's gaps and inadequacies. New Directions clearly aims to respond to that concern with essays on very contemporary concerns in manuscript studies, including scribal and reading cultures, multilingualism, and various forms of medievalism and medievalist reception. While the collection still doesn't offer the reader a clear sense of where these 'new directions' might be headed...