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HUMANrTIF.S 433 Steven Justice and Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, editors. Written Work: Langla11d, Labor, and Authorship University of Pennsylvania Press. x, :)48. $69.75 This fine book, the result of a partnership between Canada's leading Langlandian, Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, and five scholars based in the United States, would be as good a place to start as any for someone wanting to know more about the present preoccupations of Middle English studies in North America. It's true that the whole book focuses on a single scene of Langland's finat 'C' revision of Piers Plowman, a quasi-autobiographical episode in which the narrator, Will, defends himself to Reason against the charge of being a 'lollare,' a layabout. It's also true that, from one point of view, each of the essays argues rather specific scholarly positions: that Langland wrote at least parts of the B text twice (Steven Justice); that Will is modelled on the figure of the hermit (Ralph Hanna); that, like Chaucer, he wrote in the first instance for a coterie of London readers, perhaps even a specific patron (Kerby-Fulton); that Will is modelled on the figure of the friar, a figure of which Langland, contrary to appearances, approved (Lawrence Clopper); that London, often evoked in Piers Plowman, remains in its refusal to be analysed using the ideological tools available to Langland, 'the problem that the poem does not solve' (Derek Pearsall); and that the C text apologia 'takes its premises ... from the provisions of the second Statue of Laborers ... enacted by the Cambridge ParUament of September 1388' (Anne Middleton). Detailed, sometimes speculative literary and historical claims like these, whose force can only be felt by those acquainted with the field, have always been a big part of Middle English studies. But what unifies these six essays, despite their different approaches, their vastly different lengths -from 12 pages (Justice) to 109 (Middleton)- and their several disagreements with one another, is that the authors share the conviction that Piers Plowman is central to the literary culture of late fourteenth-century England in general and to the problem of vernacular authorship in particular in a way even Chaucer is not. Partly because Langland's status within the canon is still not secure -how many readers of this journal have read all Piers Plowman in any version?- partly·because the poem's mixed reputation parallels that of fvliddle English studies in generaL all six authors address their subject with zeal and a faith that ought to be enough to move mountains. Whether Piers Plowman can really bust its way into the world of Norton editions and undergraduate English syllabuses still remains to be seen. All these essays are good, three or four of them brilliant and readers with the patience to study them closely enough- for they are also difficult essays about a difficult poet, whose first audience is itself a scholarly coterie -will learn a lot. The late fourteenth century is increasingly possible to see in detail as a period of astonishing literary and linguistic activity in 434 LEITERS IN CANADA 1997 England, whose intensity in many ways parallels that of the better-known period between 1570 and 1620. Here, in the poetry of Langland, Gower, Chaucer, and others, in the religious and controversial prose of the Lollards and other reformers, and in several attempts to define the role of vernacular writing or else to censor it, much of the ideological foundation on which later English prose and poetic traditions were built was laid out. KerbyFulton 's and Middleton's essays are especially helpful in their wideranging appreciations of this process. Kerby-Fulton analyses Langland as an author in relatjon not only to late medieval views of literary authorship and a~tctoritas and to the slender evidence we have for the literary culture of fourteenth-century London but also to early attempts at formal and informal censorship of vernacular writing in the IJ8os and IJ90S. Middleton , in a tour de force whose central argument demands we revise the date of Langland's final version of his poem, and indeed the date of his death, does to Langland what is so often done to Chaucer, by attributing to his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 433-434
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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