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  • La Vie d’Edouard le Confesseur, by a Nun of Barking Abbey ed. by Jane Bliss
  • Heather Pagan
La Vie d’Edouard le Confesseur, by a Nun of Barking Abbey. Edited and translated by Jane Bliss. (Exeter Medieval Texts and Studies.) Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2014. 249 pp.

This work provides a translation of the Anglo-Norman Life of Edward the Confessor, based on Östen Södergård’s edition (Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1948) in consultation with the online edition, a Life which Jane Bliss describes initially as ‘long-neglected’ (p. 1), despite the existence of these two editions and a great amount of scholarship on the text, its author, and its language helpfully provided in a thorough bibliography. (Editions of all three manuscripts containing the text can be found at <>.) The translation is preceded by an Introduction that presupposes a certain level of familiarity with Anglo-Norman hagiography in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, offering a summary of current research on the central themes of the work, such as Edward as a holy warrior and a chaste king, as well as mystical qualities in the text. Bliss analyses the relationship between the work and its primary source, Aelred’s Vita S. Edwardi Regis et Confessoris, noting the difficulty in fully examining the relationship between the two until the full critical edition of the latter, in preparation by Francesco Marzella, is complete. She also explores the possibility of other sources for the text, evaluating what is known about the author’s understanding of English as well as books known to have been held at Barking Abbey. The Life has elicited much scholarship on the possible identity of its anonymous author, due to her relationship with Barking Abbey and her famous ‘apology’ for her poor French. Bliss convincingly argues that the author of the work, whom she characterizes as having a ‘narrative voice [that] resembles that of a bossy, chatty, and yet profoundly devout older woman’ (p. 44), cannot be the writer we know as Clemence of Barking, but that she may well have been one of Clemence’s teachers. Bliss divides her translation into chapters with titles, with every chapter preceded by an introduction discussing the thematic strands as well as the relationship between the text and its sources. Bliss notes corresponding line numbers in Södergård, indicating any points where she chooses a variant reading from the online edition, as well as in the Vita and its translation, and she adds, when warranted, corresponding passages in other lives of Edward. The prose translation attempts ‘to reproduce the Nun’s voice as closely as is consistent with readable modern prose’ (p. 52), thus she maintains the nun’s choices of verbal tense and the tu/vous distinction (translated as thou/you) as used in Old French. Several Appendices follow the translation, discussing the use of dream and prophecy in the text as well as biblical references in the Life. A short glossary covers about thirty Anglo-Norman words and their particular meaning in the text and Bliss shows a particular interest in ‘[w]ords and idea usually [End Page 381] associated with “romantic” love’ (p. 12). This translation will be a great introduction for those wishing to examine further the Anglo-Norman Life.

Heather Pagan
Aberystwyth University


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pp. 381-382
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