- Friendship and Sociability in Premodern Europe: Contexts, Concepts, and Expressions ed. by Amyrose McCue Gill and Sarah Rolfe Prodan
This collection of essays presents ten of the ‘most engaging contributions’ (p. 25) of a 2011 colloquium, its main purpose being to expand ‘discourses of amity beyond the purview of individual friendships’ (p. 17) to consider how friendship functions socially or institutionally. The volume ranges widely in terms of both geography and chronology, from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries, from Italy, on which most of the articles concentrate, to China; it would have benefited from a greater focus. The Introduction gives a strong sense of the individual contributions as well as previous work on the topic, including a helpful bibliography (although Laurie Shannon’s Sovereign Amity: Figures of Friendship in Shakespearean Contexts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002) is a curious omission). Yet it also tends to reveal that the overall approach is doubtless too broad to be particularly insightful; a case in point is the working definition of friendship as ‘flexible category that lent itself — through its very malleability — to use as a construct for understanding and negotiating personal and social relations’ (p. 35). This seems fair enough, but it begs the methodological question of how to combine a sensitivity to this ‘malleability’ without drifting into forms of relations that have less and less to do with friendship as normally understood. Two of the three articles focusing on French material also illustrate this lack of focus. Brian Sandberg’s chapter on warrior nobles during the Wars of Religion promises what would be fascinating case studies of friendships forged or maintained on the battlefield, but tends to be rather broad. Admittedly, [End Page 389] warrior nobles wrote that they would gather their ‘amis’ before engaging in warfare (p. 179), but this alone does not seem to be compelling evidence for strong ties of friendship, since the ‘amis’ may share little more than a common cause. Jean Bernier’s piece is an excellent introduction to Pierre Bayle and his view of how to maintain good relations in the Republic of Letters, even in the face of attacks from a former friend, Pierre Jurieu. Yet Bayle’s work to sustain the free and open exchange of ideas without calumny does not in itself equate to friendship, strictly speaking. In contrast, Malina Stefanovska’s chapter is not only very clearly focused on friendship as conveyed in seventeenth-century memoirs — especially those of Louis de Pontis — but gives some extraordinary and specific examples, including how Pontis’s friend Zamet reprimanded the former on his deathbed, after hearing how Pontis had massacred enemy prisoners when he learnt that his friend had been mortally wounded. Here, friendship is also re-interpreted through the lens of Port-Royal theology and confession. In short, this book will be of limited interest to readers of French Studies. Nevertheless, anyone specializing in early modern friendship will want to consult it; the quality of individual chapters, as well as the presentation throughout, mean that this volume certainly has its merits.