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REVIEWS UNDER PRETEXT OF PRAISE' This is a book written with much understanding and appreciation of Erasmus, and it attempts a service to him among the most difficuJt to render: the consideration of the forms taken by his irony, and, going further, the use made by him of fictional creative writing. Erasmus is notoriously difficult to fit into any tidy scheme; the author is well aware of this, and though she is led by her sense of the fitting and her ideals of scholarship to write a first chapter on the nature of satire and irony, she is obliged by her honesty to point out that Erasmus provides exception to all the rules. There is an analogy between her need to discuss the subject of irony, which must lead to some form ofclassification often inapplicable to Erasmus, and Erasmus' own discussion of the four senses of Scripture dear to mediaeval thought, while his personal instinct is to bypass all such artificial distinctions. The preface to the hook outlines very well the problems of dealing with such a Protean mind. It is perhaps because of the tension between an attempt to classify and a conviction that Erasmus evades all classification that this first chapter leaves an impression of opaqueness. The author has considered many aspects of satire and her learning is undeniable, but one tends to feel that this general consideration of principle was a matter of duty rather than choice. When she goes on to consider actual texts she is much happier and so is the reader. The Praise of Folly rightly has a chapter to itself, the Colloquies and certain other satiric writings are dealt with in the third chapter, and the final section, sed rerum potior, is a pendant to the first, but more satisfactory as it has a more definite topic; it aims at showing the connection between Erasmus' use of irony and the deep convictions and objectives of his life. Of all Erasmus' writings, the Praise of Folly has caused the most ink to be spilt. It has a long history of interpretations and commentators, and this is inevitable because it assumes a different significance for each generation; the interpretation of one age has been diametrically opposed to that of another. It may he claimed for our own time that we understand Erasmus better than he has ever been understood before, and Sister Geraldine's chapter on the Praise of Folly substantiates this claim. She is a little in love with Moria, and acutely percipient about her. Most readers have recognized that the alternation between the voice of Folly and the voice of Erasmus is responsible for much of the perplexing richness of the work as for the criticisms it aroused. The present study brings out clearly the variations of tone, the fluidity of the irony, and the 'emergence of the sober non-ironic voice of Erasmus.' The author analyzes the multiple forms of ironic technique used here, with the eye of sympathy and a sure hand. Recognizing that there are other and more complicated ways of dividing the "Sister Geraldine Thompson, Under Pretext of Praise: Satiric Mode in Erasmus' Fiction. Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1973. Pp. xvi, 192. $12.50 UNV.l:iK PKBTBXT OF l~RAISE 107 work (for instance into the parts of a classical oration) she prefers to start with a simple threefold division: natural folly, vicious folly, and the folly of the Cross. Dealing with each in turn, she gives a sensitive analysis of the initial irony which 'slithers between poles: the 'teeming subject matter and rocketing moods' of the middle section, the 'transcendent level' of the final one. In her assessment of this last section, she is able to recognize the mystical quality which has so often been ruled out in estimates of Erasmus. She points out that 'though the ironic inversions drop away from the Praise, and the satire fails to sustain the work to the end, it is not in any sense a failure' (p 71). In fact it is characteristic of Erasmian satire to prepare the way fora positive statement: 'in the end, Moria's audience is readier to listen to her penultimate sober words than...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 166-167
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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