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226 Reviews remains open rather than closed, and this is appropriate for the first tale, which raises but does not answer some of the questions about the h u m a n condition that recur in later tales. This is a clear-headed and useful study. It exposes some of the excesses of twentieth-century criticism without the self-congratulation that too frequently accompanies such exercises; and, at a time when flavour of the month has banished the words on the page to the margins, its attention to the text is particularly welcome. T. L. Burton Department of English University of Adelaide KUmin, Beat, The Shaping of a Community: The Rise and Reformation of the English Parish c.1400-1560 (St Andrews Studies in Reformation History), Aldershot, Scolar Press, 1996; cloth; pp. 362; R.R.P. AUS$96.00. Beat Kumin's The Shaping of a Community is part of a series of studies on Reformation History designed, according to the series editors Andrew Pettegree, Bruce Gordon and John Guy, to 'reflect the range of subjects—British and European—and the variety of historical approaches and methods which n o w characterize scholarship in this field'. The Shaping of a Community is both an impressive and informative contribution to this project, offering a close analysis of EngUsh parish 'communities' from the fifteenth century to the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I. The approach Kumin adopts here is strictly quantitative. His study is primarily based on the churchwardens' accounts from ten selected parishes which he analyses in terms of economic functions and viabitfty. Charting the income and expenditure trends of his ten case studies across the period which his project encompasses, with reference, where relevant, to other EngUsh as w e U as continental accounts, Kumin suggests that EngUsh parishes were thriving on the immediate eve of the Reformation, attesting to the strength rather than the imminent decline of the 'old' religion. Kumin's aim is to focus attention on the structure and function of Reviews 227 the parish as the pre-eminent unit of local social organization in this period. H e defends his right to use the term 'community', in the face of recent criticism that it is so often (mis)appUed as to render it meaningless, arguing for the integrity of the concept in relation to the 'geographicaUy defined reUgious and social unit with certain coUective responsibiUties and the capabUity to act, sue, and be represented as a quasi-corporate body' (p. 2) which was the late medieval EngUsh parish. The style of the book reflects the methodical approach of the author, w h o prepares his readers at the outset for a somewhat colourless experience when he advises that the tone of his argument is deUberately 'matter of fact' and that the 'temptation to embeUish or personalise has been resisted' (p. 10). Readers, particularly those with other than a purely historical agenda, m a y be disappointed that the author so rarely permits himself to stray from the path of statistical certainty into the realms of iUustrative but less 'objective' data such as the anecdote. The author concedes this as a likely reaction but dismisses it as unavoidable given the prosaic nature of churchwardens' accounts which tend to record amounts not emotions. I t is both the strength and the weakness in Kumin's analysis that he so rigidly adheres to the parameters he sets for himself in this regard. The result, however, is an argument that inspires confidence, founded as it is on a careful assimilation and interpretation of empirical evidence. In c o m m o n with other recent accounts of the organisation of parochial reUgion in late medieval England, K u m i n stresses the high level of voluntary participation and contribution by the laity to their parish communities. The level of non-obUgatory donations to coUective initiatives centred around the parish, such as endowments of chapels, church effects, and periodic dramatic productions, as detaUed in churchwardens accounts throughout England in this period, testifies to the degree to which people identified themselves as communal groups on the basis of parish boundaries. Kumin demonstrates that, until the mid-sixteenth century, control of...


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