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Medieval Autographies

The "I" of the Text

A. C. Spearing

Publication Year: 2012

In Medieval Autographies, A. C. Spearing develops a new engagement of narrative theory with medieval English first-person writing, focusing on the roles and functions of the “I” as a shifting textual phenomenon, not to be defined either as autobiographical or as the label of a fictional speaker or narrator. Spearing identifies and explores a previously unrecognized category of medieval English poetry, calling it "autography.” He describes this form as emerging in the mid-fourteenth century and consisting of extended nonlyrical writings in the first person, embracing prologues, authorial interventions in and commentaries on third-person narratives, and descendants of the dit, a genre of French medieval poetry. He argues that autography arose as a means of liberation from the requirement to tell stories with preordained conclusions and as a way of achieving a closer relation to lived experience, with all its unpredictability and inconsistencies. Autographies, he claims, are marked by a cluster of characteristics including a correspondence to the texture of life as it is experienced, a montage-like unpredictability of structure, and a concern with writing and textuality. Beginning with what may be the earliest extended first-person narrative in Middle English, Winner and Waster, the book examines instances of the dit as discussed by French scholars, analyzes Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Prologue as a textual performance, and devotes separate chapters to detailed readings of Hoccleve’s Regement of Princes prologue, his Complaint and Dialogue, and the witty first-person elements in Osbern Bokenham’s legends of saints. An afterword suggests possible further applications of the concept of autography, including discussion of the intermittent autographic commentaries on the narrative in Troilus and Criseyde and Capgrave’s Life of Saint Katherine.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

This book originated as the Robert M. Conway Lectures in Medieval Studies given at the University of Notre Dame in October 2007. I was honored to be invited to give these lectures, and I am most grateful to Tom Noble, then director of the Medieval Institute...

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Chapter 1: The Textual First Person

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pp. 1-32

In this book I attempt to bring into focus a category of medieval English writing that has not previously been recognized as such. I call it “autography,” and, put simply, it consists of extended, nonlyrical, fictional writings in and of the first person. A more...

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Chapter 2: Autography: Prologues and Dits

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pp. 33-64

The occurrences of a narratorial first person in Wynnere and Wastoure have behind them no fictional self of which an autobiography could be imagined. That brings us back to the terminological question, the question of autography, which I hope we may now...

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Chapter 3: Chaucerian Prologues and The Wife of Bath

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pp. 65-97

If, after examining two fourteenth-century dits, the anonymous Dit des monstiers and Machaut’s Dit de la fonteinne amoureuse, we now turn back to Chaucer’s prologues, we shall find that many of them, whether in whole or in part, are surprisingly similar in...

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Chapter 4: Why Autography?

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pp. 99-127

What can it have been in autography that appealed to French poets and their readers from the thirteenth century on and to those writing and reading in English from the mid-fourteenth century on? Answers to such a question can only be speculative, but I think it...

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Chapter 5: Hoccleve ad the Prologue

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pp. 129-170

Of Chaucer’s many fifteenth-century followers, the one who learned most from his predecessor’s autographic writings was Thomas Hoccleve. Hoccleve (circa 1367–1426), probably born in the same year as Chaucer’s son Thomas1 and sharing his baptismal...

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Chapter 6: Hoccleve's Series

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pp. 171-207

The last and most peculiar of Hoccleve’s major works in English is the compilation of texts known as the Series.1 It is a montage made up of a number of distinct parts, brought together within a single written space,2 and these parts are as follows. First comes...

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Chapter 7: Bokenham's Autographies

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pp. 209-256

The second fifteenth-century poet in the Chaucerian tradition whose autographic writings I wish to examine, Osbern Bokenham, is less well known than Hoccleve. To judge from the survival of manuscripts, he was far less widely read in his own time, though I...

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pp. 257-268

As I wrote in chapter 1, in this book “I am not purporting to offer a comprehensive theory of subjectivity in discourse, nor am I even proposing a program for detailed interpretation. I am only offering an invitation to try out a different kind of reading”—a way of...


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pp. 269-306


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pp. 307-332


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pp. 333-347

About the Author, Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780268092801
E-ISBN-10: 026809280X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268017828
Print-ISBN-10: 0268017824

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: NA
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 830023841
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Medieval Autographies

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Subject Headings

  • Great Britain -- History -- 1066-1687 -- Historiography.
  • Great Britain -- History -- Anglo-Saxon period, 449-1066 -- Historiography.
  • Geography in literature.
  • Islands in literature.
  • Gardens in literature.
  • Literature and history -- Great Britain -- History.
  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
  • English literature -- Middle English, 1100-1500 -- History and criticism.
  • English literature -- Old English, ca. 450-1100 -- History and criticism.
  • National characteristics, British, in literature.
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