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  • 'Chere alme': Texts of Anglo-Norman Piety ed. by Tony Hunt
  • Alexandra Barratt
Hunt, Tony , ed., 'Chere alme': Texts of Anglo-Norman Piety, trans. Jane Bliss, intro. Henrietta Leyser (The French of England Translation, Occasional Publication, 1), Tempe, AZ, Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2010; hardback; pp. xii, 445; R.R.P. US$60.00, £45.00; ISBN 9780866984331.

This book serves several purposes: it is an anthology of Anglo-Norman religious texts; a useful introduction to the place of Anglo-Norman didactic literature within the context of early English culture; and it could also function as a self-tutor. It therefore deserves a wide audience among not only specialists in Middle English and Old French, but also students with enquiring minds who are willing to 'think outside the square'.

An ability to read Anglo-Norman, as well as Medieval Latin, texts is starting to look almost essential for those working in medieval English historical and literary studies. Dean and Boulton's Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts, which appeared in 1999, helped tame the jungle of Anglo-Norman texts and clear the way for more research in the area, while Jocelyn Wogan-Browne's 2001 monograph Saints' Lives and Women's Literary Culture showed the importance of Anglo-Norman hagiography in the context of medieval texts written by and for women. More recently, the varied essays in Language and Culture in Medieval England: The French of England c. 1100-c. 1500 (2009) showcased the growing number of scholars recruited to the collective enterprise, and the widening scope of Anglo-Norman studies. Finally, the [End Page 253] availability of the online Anglo-Norman Dictionary has been of immense benefit for all those who find a need to work with Anglo-Norman texts. But few graduate schools can offer papers in Anglo-Norman, and students, often with little background nowadays in any language other than English, very often have to teach themselves - up to now an intimidating prospect. The Anglo-Norman Text Series is designed primarily for Romance philologists, so how is one to convince a graduate student that Anglo-Norman is not only an important and useful tool but is also, though it looks strange and off-putting at first blush, quite approachable for those with even a little knowledge of Latin and/or Modern French?

The book under review would be a good start. It contains fourteen Anglo-Norman texts, all of them previously unedited (telling in itself: one would be hard put to compile an anthology of fourteen previously unknown Middle English texts of any stature or interest). They are manageably brief, and each comes with a short introduction and modernized paragraphing and punctuation. There is no Glossary, but instead a facing-page close Modern English translation. The texts have been edited by Tony Hunt and several were foreshadowed more than ten years earlier in Dean and Boulton as 'forthcoming in Anglo-Norman Piety': this book, at last, is the fulfilment of that promise.

The anthology has six sections: 'The Tenets of the Faith', 'Marian Texts', 'The Passion', 'Private Prayers', 'Vices and Confession', and 'Virtues and Rewards'. The three outer sections consist of didactic texts reflecting the 1215 Lateran Council syllabus of religious instruction. They include a commentary on the Lord's Prayer, a treatise on the Seven Deadly Sins, and a formula for confession, and lead up to treatments of various virtues and Purgatory. The three inner sections represent devotional writing: the Marian texts comprise an apocryphal account of the Virgin's childhood, an enumeration of her Thirteen Joys, and a narrative of her Assumption, while the section on Christ's Passion consists of a Marian lament which derives from the popular Latin text Quis dabit, and 'The Minstrel's Passion', a verse narrative that covers the events from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday. There is more devotional material in the Private Prayers section. Simply listing the topics should make it clear how much later Middle English devotional and didactic texts, in prose and verse, must have owed to Anglo-Norman as well as Latin models.

Henrietta Leyser's General Introduction, which is closely tied to the texts in the...


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