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REVIEWS123 device in medieval literature, the simple assertion that a work has reached its end' (p. 120). The problem is that that is not what the last line in the Legend asserts. It says nothing about the piece being over; rather it seems to assert a purpose. It says, 'This tale is seyd for this conclusioun,' a sentence with several ambiguities: 'this' conclusion, meaning which conclusion? 'conclusion' as ending or as logical inference? 'for' meaning 'because of—an implied teleology? and 'this tale' meaning the individual legend or the Legend ofGood Women as a whole? It is indeed an 'open' ending, whether complete or not. The book touches base with numerous topics of interest but remains—well, inconclusive. Unfortunately, this kind of'openness' is less a virtue—less interesting— in scholarship than in poetry. The assertions it does make (for instance, re: Chaucer's challenge to reader expectations and undercutting ofliterary convention) are by no means new. When McGerr ends by announcing that 'It is time...to reconsider Chaucer's poems in this new light [i.e., of resistance to closure] and to give heed to the reading lessons they provide' (p. 157) one is tempted to think that the alarm clock went offa while ago. SHEILA DELANY Simon Fraser University jerry root, Space to speke': The ConfessionalSubject in MedievalLiterature. American University Studies Ser. II, Romance Languages and Literatures Vol. 225. New York and Bern: Peter Lang, 1997. Pp. 271. isbn: 0-8204-3711-5. $46.95. I remember fondly my professor Robert O. Payne's impassioned jeremiads against the grand critical edifice of D. W. Robertson who once so dominated medieval studies. Payne's 1963 The Key ofRemembrancewas a turning point in the field, isolating Chaucer's attention to rhetoric. Payne is not cited by Jerry Root in his convincing treatise Space to speke': The Confessional Subject in Medieval Literature; Robertson is. Payne's absence symbolizes problems in Root's ultimately worthy study that validates Payne's basic insight and resuscitates what was best about Robertson's hegemony of religion. Root's book is principally concerned with the formative role of institutionalized confession, particularly with confession's language, in creating a literary subjectivity that was peculiarly medieval. The book is adequately researched and no more; relevant primary texts are elucidated with the help ofsecondary work by Bakhtin, E. Howard Bloch, Foucault, Leicester, Morris, Patterson, Brian Stock, Vance, and Zink—all indebted to Payne's breakthrough—as well as Auerbach, Marc Bloch, Chenu, Gilson, Huizinga, and Spitzer, even when superseded by their juniors. Root contends that the formulizing of obligatory confession, which took place in vernacular instructional manuals after the Fourth Lateran Council of1215, ushered in fourteenth-century literary characterization. Indeed, even beyond literature, 'the technical language of confession and its institutional backdrop,' combined, 124ARTHURIANA 'constituted a new cultural construction of the self (i). He begins his study with Augustine's Confessions to show how, despite the title ofthis work, its expectation of confession is quite other than what will evolve eventually. The force behind the later institution of confession is Abelard's Ethics whose thinking, although it does not create 'a new theory of inferiority' germane to the subsequent manuals and then exploited in imaginative literature, does nevertheless '[disassociate] the exterior aspects of sin (action, temptation) from the interior aspects (intention, consent)' (35, 36). The manuals will create a 'space to speke' (as Chaucer puts it in the House ofFame), stipulating a temporal space defined by the '[regularity ofj self-examination' (64), a physical space no longer within the public forum and thereby demarcating a realm of privacy, and a discursive space emphasizing the spoken word as 'the sign of contrition [and] the external proof of an unverifiablc inner condition' (66)—a discourse in which sins are enumerated, leading to reflection upon them, albeit the formulae were meant simply to make confession uniform. Subjectivity develops first because the manuals insist upon the 'translation' of one's transgression into discourse, into a familiar, objective language.' The translation is a cognitive process, as is any subsequent reflective activity, yet selfhood emerges equally from a correlativeshift toward the investiture of socio-political power in the individual. 'Confession represents an exercise in institutional...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1539
Print ISSN
1078-6279
Pages
pp. 123-125
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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