- In Strange Countries: Middle English Literature and its Afterlife: Essays in Memory of J. J. Anderson ed. by David Matthews
When I was an honours student at the University of Adelaide in the later 1960s, a carbon copy of J. J. Anderson's PhD thesis - an edition of Patience - was on the bookshelves of the room shared by honours students. This was an intriguing discovery for those of us studying Sir Gawain and the Green Knight since we knew little about this, the Gawain-poet's shortest poem, and no printed edition was available. If I begin with this personal note it is because the book under review seems to invite it. To a degree not always achieved by such volumes, this book in memory of J. J. Anderson is both a collection of fine scholarly essays and also an intensely personal tribute to a much-admired scholar. The essays are on a set of interconnected subjects but the book also traces a network of interconnected scholars and scholarship.
Two of the chapters are personal recollections of Anderson. The late and much-lamented Ralph Elliott, whose recent death gave us a special occasion to remember his fostering of so many other scholars, and who shared Anderson's lifelong passion for the works of the Gawain-poet, concentrates on that aspect of Anderson's work. He not only refers to supervising Anderson's PhD, but also pays tribute to his own teacher, James Parker Oakden at the University of St Andrews, and the influence of Oakden's Alliterative Poetry in Middle English on his later interest in Sir Gawain and its topography. In his chapter, Alan Shelston offers a more general but personal picture of Anderson as colleague and friend but also mentions the success of his doctoral and masters students, a further developing network of scholars.
Instances of scholarly interaction and mentorship are not confined to these two essays. Gillian Rudd in her 'subtle re-reading', as the Introduction aptly describes it, of the Green Knight as 'both an obvious and an uneasy figure or figuration of nature', begins by recalling a remark of Anderson, while Peter Meredith in a fascinating account of the last celebration of the procession commemorating Bishop (Saint) Blase (who was said to be the inventor of the wool-comb) in Bradford in 1825, not only refers to the time when Anderson and he were together in Adelaide in the early 1960s but also traces their shared trajectory through medieval drama to interest in various kinds of civic entertainment.
The essays in this book are not only about Middle English literature but also, as the subtitle suggests, its 'afterlife'. In one sense, all the chapters on medieval texts are concerned with their critical 'afterlife', but the notion of [End Page 280] afterlife particularly pertains to Peter Meredith's chapter, to Stephen Knight's illuminating comparison of the continuing traditions of Robin Hood and Arthur and how, starting from such apparently opposed positions, outlaw and king, 'for all this difference, the two traditions can approach each other', and to Rosamund Allen's revealing comparison of 'how LaƷamon and Tennyson deal with the problem of combat'. LaƷamon's Brut is also the subject of an equally revealing comparison in Carole Weinberg's chapter, but this time backwards to Wace rather than forwards to Tennyson. Somewhat closer to Anderson's core interests in the Gawain-poet and medieval drama are Susan Powell's discussion of the assumption of the Virgin in Pearl and the Festial and Alexandra F. Johnston's treatment of Nicholas Love and plays of Christ's passion, both reminding us of the value of using specific medieval texts which might be considered minor to throw light on the assumptions and beliefs behind some of the major texts of the period. Finally Kalpen Trivedi offers a persuasive argument for seeing a group of manuscripts of the Pore Caitiff...