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Answerable Style

The Idea of the Literary in Medieval England

Edited by Frank Grady and Andrew Galloway

Publication Year: 2013

Renewed interest in aesthetics, in form, and the idea of the literary has led some scholars to announce the arrival of a “new formalism,” but the provisional histories of such a critical rebirth tend to begin well after the beginning, paying scant attention to medieval literary scholarship, much less the Middle Ages. The essays in Answerable Style: The Idea of the Literary in Medieval England offer a collective rebuke to the assumption that any such aesthetic turn can succeed without careful attention to the history and criticism of “the medieval literary.” Taking as their touchstone the influential work of Anne Middleton, whose searching explorations of the dialectical intersection of form and history in Middle English writing lie at the heart of the medievalist’s literary critical enterprise, the essays in this volume address the medieval idea of the literary, with special focus on the poetry of Chaucer, Langland, and Gower. The essays, by a notable array of medievalists, range from the “contact zones” between clerical culture and vernacular writing, to manuscript study and its effects on the modalities of “persona” and voicing, to the history of emotion as a basis for new literary ideals, to the reshapings of the genre of tragedy in response to late-medieval visions of history, and finally to the relations between poets writing in different medieval vernaculars. With this unusually broad yet thematically complementary set of essays, Answerable Style offers a set of key critical and historical reference points for questions currently preoccupying literary study.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press

Series: Interventions: New Studies in Medieval Culture


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-9

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pp. 1-12

In recent years, scholars working in a range of periods have begun to talk about aesthetics, form, and “the literary” in reanimated ways. A new emphasis, if not a movement, has emerged, in which what counts as distinctly literary form and as the very category of literature is receiving attention with a focus and energy suggesting a major reorientation of a number of familiar approaches, including historicism, theory, and gender studies. ...

Part I.

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One: Horace’s Ars poetica in the Medieval Classroom and Beyond

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pp. 15-33

WHEN DOES a classic of criticism become a classic? When, under what conditions, does it manifest those supposedly abiding characteristics that make it a classic, giving it the heft of a global pronouncement? Perhaps when it has outlived its familiar and daily usefulness. ...

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Two: Latin Composition Lessons, Piers Plowman, and the Piers Plowman Tradition*

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pp. 34-53

“The Piers Plowman tradition” is a widely used label for alliterative poetry which is unmistakably informed by Piers Plowman. The most prominent examples of the Piers Plowman tradition are Pierce the Ploughman’s Crede (1393–1401), Richard the Redeless (c. 1400), Mum and the Sothsegger (c. 1409), and The Crowned King (after 1415).1 Other composition in the tradition includes at least some of A-text passus 12, lines attributed ...

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Three: Langland Translating

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pp. 54-74

This essay is meant to supplement my short discussion of Langland’s translations in Roger Ellis’s Oxford History of Literary Translation in English.1 There I raised the question why some Latin quoted in Piers Plowman is translated and some not, and put forward the theory that the answer lies in the relation of speaker to listener: speakers who talk down translate. ...

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Four: Escaping the Whirling Wicker

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pp. 75-94

In the late 1980s, Lee Patterson pointed to “Exegetics,” the mode of criticism associated with D. W. Robertson, Jr., as “the great unfinished business of Medieval Studies. . . . Unable to absorb Exegetics and move on, Chaucer studies instead circles back almost compulsively to an apparently irrepressible scandal, a recursiveness that itself bespeaks a scandalous limitation to its own critical creativity.”1 In far less dramatic fashion, one might ...

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Five: Langland’s Literary Syntax, Or Animaas an Alternative to Latin Grammar

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pp. 95-120

This essay will examine Langland’s second B-text iteration of Anima as a newly constructed and deliberately hybrid tool for abstract thought—an instance in which the combination of English and Latin surpasses either language alone. It begins, however, with what the Augustinian canon John Mirk calls “sory Laten”: Latin used by and for those who have not mastered it as a subject of academic study.1 At the low end of the continuum, sorry Latin ...

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Six: Speculum Vitae and the Form of Piers Plowman

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pp. 121-139

Contributing to this collection is undertaking a dangerously imitative act. I’m going to try, as “þe wakkest, I wot, and of wyt feblest,” to imitate something I hope our honoree would think worthy to read. This is certainly a shabby substitution, in which an act of homage equally presumes to emulate what has formed, guided, and educated its perpetrator over so many years. ...

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Seven: Petrarch’s Pleasures, Chaucer’s Revulsions, and the Aesthetics of Renunciation in Late-Medieval Culture

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pp. 140-166

Charting the history of emotions has a foundational role in medieval studies, but it cannot be considered a steadily developing one. This is clear from Johan Huizinga’s most influential but controversial book, known to the English-speaking world since 1924 as The Waning of the Middle Ages. First appearing in Dutch in 1919, Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen (literally, ‘the autumn of the Middle Ages’), later revised (1921) then variously abridged and further revised in successive French, English, and German ...

Part II.

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Eight: Chaucer’s History-Effect

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pp. 169-194

The point of this essay is to explain a compositional device Chaucer invents in the Troilus and Criseyde. Later it will argue that by this device Chaucer constituted himself as an object of investigation, but the essay’s best rationale is that the device has never been fully explained or even recognized. Chaucer stages its introduction at the beginning of book 2. Approaching Criseyde on Troilus’ errand, Pandarus apologizes for interrupting the parlor ...

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Nine: Seigneurial Poetics, or The Poacher, the Prikasour, The Hunt, and Its Oeuvre

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pp. 195-213

If “the refocusing of literary studies on textuality itself as central to any possible adequate literary history of the Middle Ages appears to be the chief contribution that studies in medieval literature might offer to literary studies generally in the coming generation,” then we have evidently still got a lot of work to do. That sentence is from Anne Middleton’s contribution to the critical anthology ...

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Ten: Agency and the Poetics of Sensation in Gower’s Mirour de l’Omme*

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pp. 214-243

Perhaps the most consistent theme over the course of Gower’s writing career is his resistance to the idea of Fortune. In the Vox Clamantis and the Confessio Amantis, he repeatedly argues that the notion of Fortune is a fraud, a way of dodging responsibility; as he tells us in the Prologue to the Confessio, “man is overal / His oghne cause of wel and wo. / That we fortune clepe so / Out of the man himself it groweth.”1 ...

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Eleven: Troilus and Criseyde*

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pp. 244-262

At the end of Troilus and Criseyde, as everybody knows, Chaucer addresses his poem as “litel myn tragedie” (5.1786). And as virtually everybody also knows—or at least thinks they know—Chaucer derived this generic term from a sentence in Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy and its attendant gloss.1 ...

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Twelve: The Silence of Langland’s Study*

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pp. 263-283

Material is handled in the Middle Ages, as it probably is today, in a deeply ambivalent way. Material includes a lot: the stuff of body, but also the content of things as abstract as narrative—the matter of rhetorical and poetic invention. Plotinus argues, in fact, that matter literally is nothing, because anything we can say about it, or predicate of it, is really something else— dimension, density, color—that exists independent of, or prior to, matter.1 ...

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Thirteen: Voice and Public Interiorities

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pp. 284-306

Whatever happened to voice? Critical use of the term is often diffident, and as far from standardized as any critical term can be. Paul Zumthor’s comment in 1983 remains true: “It is strange that, among all the institutionalized disciplines, there is not yet a science of voice. Let us hope that one is forthcoming.”1 It is unlikely to be a science. ...

Works Cited

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pp. 307-331


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pp. 333-341

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270066
E-ISBN-10: 0814270069
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814212073
Print-ISBN-10: 0814212077

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 5 illustrations
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Interventions: New Studies in Medieval Culture