- The Writings of Julian of Norwich: A Vision Showed to a Devout Woman and a Revelation of Love
After Geoffrey Chaucer, Julian of Norwich is probably the Middle English writer who is most frequently read today, and there has long been a need for an approachable but scholarly critical edition of her two works. This is what Watson and Jenkins offer. Like the Riverside Chaucer, their edition provides a hefty commentary and critical apparatus while seeking to make the text as approachable as possible for the student or general reader, both by normalizing and (a step further than Riverside) modernizing the spelling. In addition, Watson and Jenkins have printed the much shorter Vision twice, first as an independent text of some thirty pages, and then as a parallel edition at the foot of the much longer Revelation. Tracing the relation between the two works has never been so convenient.
A Revelation presents a singular challenge to modern editors, since each of its two earliest witnesses – Paris (Bibliothe'que nationale MS Fonds anglais 40, dating from the 1580s), and British Library (Sloane 2499, dating from about 1650) – has a major advantage, making it difficult to choose a base text. Sloane more closely preserves Julian's northeastern Middle English dialect, while Paris, a slightly fuller text, more closely preserves her argument and rhetorical structures. Watson and Jenkins have boldly chosen to offer a hybrid edition, using Paris as their base text but following many of Sloane's word choices.
Nor do Watson and Jenkins stop there. According to the Paris MS, Julian writes of 'the vnithing' between God and man's soul, while according to Sloane she writes of the 'unite' between them. Watson and Jenkins, noting how seldom either word occurs in the work, emend to 'oning,' echoing Julian's comment later in the fifth chapter of the work that she will never have full rest until she is 'oned' to God. The emendation is in keeping with their general championing of Julian as a vernacular theologian – that is, as someone who thought deeply and precisely about theological questions and did so in idiomatic, rather than Latinate, English. Watson and Jenkins's Julian uses 'sothly' not 'verily,' and 'made' not 'created'; her thinking is 'incarnated' in her Middle English. This view of Julian is advanced in the notes, which, in contradistinction to those of Edmund Colledge and James Walsh in their edition of 1978, locate her work within a web of late medieval popular religious writers. Colledge and Walsh's Julian begins A Revelation by drawing on William of St Thierry's Trinitarian theology; Watson and Jenkins's Julian has not so much theological sources but rather fellow travellers, whom she finds not among the early Fathers and scholastic theologians but among those who translated their ideas into the French and English vernacular.
A book that offers this much material takes a while to unpack, and instructors might hesitate at its bulk. But quite apart from the advantages of the text, the notes will be invaluable for an attentive student. When Julian requested God to send her a bodily vision of Christ's Passion and a physical sickness, she did so, provided it was God's will. Why did she drop this condition for her third request, to be visited by three wounds? What precisely does Julian mean when she writes that she saw Christ's Passion in her 'understanding'? Was the voice that called on Julian as she lay dying, telling her to look away from the crucifix and up to heaven one that she should have trusted? Again and again Watson and Jenkins offer helpful commentary on such puzzles.
Liberal editing has fallen out of favour, partly because a diminishing number of modern critics have the confidence to claim that they know an author's style and thought better than did medieval scribes. [End Page 232] Watson and Jenkins's edition is very liberal indeed, but their sensitivity to...