Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Contents

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Introduction

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pp. 1-10

Literary criticism not long ago offered itself the cheering thought that it might stop chasing symptoms and “just read,” that it might attend to what books know and advertently say rather than poke at what they inadvertently disclose.1 These impulses arrive from time to time; a generation ago, Paul de Man suggested that we might try...

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1. The First Secret

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pp. 11-27

I have said that Adam Usk seems to keep a secret, and I have proposed to look for it. One answer has anticipated me. Independently and almost simultaneously, two scholars (mentioned at the end of the Introduction) discovered that Usk omitted from his story an important autobiographical detail. One of them, Andrew Galloway, has brilliantly defined the...

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2. The Story of William Clerk

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pp. 28-38

In the last chapter, something that looked like a secret Usk had deliberately concealed proved to be written all over his book, a treacherous and self-aggrandizing act he had reason to regret but not to hide. Deeds done, however, are not the only cause of guilt. Might Usk’s secret have to do not with something he had done, but with something he could...

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3. Fear

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pp. 39-52

The previous chapter showed that Usk did not seem to fear his thoughts’ being heard. Perhaps he was afraid to hear them himself. The office and perquisites that assure us that he probably would know and probably would not bungle the report of Clerk’s execution—his longstanding service to the Court of Chivalry and his more recent service to Henry’s...

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4. Prophecy

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pp. 53-65

Anent that, think again about those freakish eggs, shaped like heads and served up to the royal valets in London.1 Their juxtaposition with the gruesome story of Hall’s execution effects a “tincture” that dyes the minor curiosity with the suggestion of violent death.2 What the real valets (if there were real valets) thought is irrecoverable, but the report implies that a...

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5. Utility

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pp. 66-81

For knowing the future does not require prophecy; it requires at most history. What has happened already in Usk’s world—the rhythm of actions and of their worldly consequences—tells all anyone needs to know about what will happen henceforth. A disillusioned gnomic wisdom widely diffused during the Middle Ages claimed that the possible patterns...

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6. Grief

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pp. 82-95

In Usk, then, you don’t need prophecy, because history tells you all the future’s secrets you need to know. But then (this is the next turn) it does the job so easily that you don’t need history either: the future, like the present, is so brutal and obvious that it can have no secrets. What is coming is more of the same, plus more hopeful and pointless efforts to avoid...

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7. Theory of History

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pp. 96-110

At the end of the previous chapter I quoted Usk’s account of Arundel’s death. This painful passage follows it:

His death I saw, while in London that very night, in a vision: leaving his whole household behind and wearing short garments, as if to travel far, he was running very quickly, and alone. As I labored with all my might to...

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8. Adam Usk’s Secret

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pp. 111-131

At this point, the attempt to track down what thoughts or expectations or knowledge are hidden in Usk’s secret reaches a dead end of sorts: its trail leads to no more than unverifiable guesses about what might have been in his mind. But then this is what a secret by definition is. More to the point, this failure points to its own solution: track the secret all the...

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Conclusion

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pp. 132-142

So there is Adam Usk’s secret: a trick of style by which he could make his chronicle act like an unwilling informant, imperfectly concealing knowledge too dangerous to declare. He had discovered the resources for it in the rhetorical discipline of his professional community, a discipline that enforced a habit of predictable decorum, performing conclusion at moments...

Abbreviations

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pp. 143-144

Notes

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pp. 145-192

Bibliography

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pp. 193-206

Index

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pp. 207-212

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Acknowledgments

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p. 213

Sean Curran, Jennifer Gurley, Charity Ketz, Maura Nolan, Katherine O’Brien O’Keeffe, Matthew Rose, Cassandra Sciortino, and Emily Thornbury read or discussed parts of this odd little book with me at different points. Michelle Karnes and David Marno read it all; both helped me undo some knots in which I had tangled myself. So did the two amazing...