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REVIEWS The great strength of this book is its expansive reading across the vernacular literary tradition of the late Middle Ages. This reading is accomplished in clear, articulate prose, with humor and complete authority . At the same time, this breadth of reading requires extensive and frequent citation of various texts essential to the argument. While the forest is never lost for the trees, it is sometimes obscured. Clear introductions and a retrospective Afterword consolidate and sharpen the complex argument, recalling the larger, overarching purposes of the book. This study is provocative in its theses and impressive in its learning. If one may quarrel with some of the interpretations and readings, one closes the volume full of ideas and questions about a freshly delineated field of reception and transmission of the topos of the abandoned woman in late medieval literature. Carolyn P. Collette Mount Holyoke College Carol F. Heffernan. The Orient in Chaucer and Medieval Romance. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2003. Pp. x, 160. $70.00. Carol F. Heffernan’s The Orient in Chaucer and Medieval Romance is a collection of essays on how the ‘‘orient’’ appears in Chaucer and a selection of medieval English romances. The book does not attempt to offer a coherent argument about medieval ‘‘orientalism,’’ as Heffernan explains in her introduction: ‘‘This study focuses on a genre and a place— ‘romance’ and the ‘Orient’—as they are exemplified in late medieval English literature, especially in Chaucer’’ (p. 1). Furthermore, Heffernan explains, ‘‘This study does not press anything like a continuous argument for medieval orientalism of a Postcolonial stamp, though a connecting purpose of the six chapters of this book is to show how the Orient and the people in it are presented in late medieval romance’’ (p. 1). Arguing that one can discern an ‘‘oriental influence’’ in medieval romances , Heffernan argues that romance appeared in Europe following the Second Crusade and that this aristocratic genre makes ‘‘love,’’ ‘‘courtship,’’ and ‘‘marriage’’ central issues (p. 4). After a brief overview of crusade history, also covered in the introduction, five discussions of PAGE 315 315 ................. 11491$ CH13 11-01-10 14:02:32 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER romances follows. The first (chapter 2), ‘‘Mercantilism and Faith in the Eastern Mediterranean: Chaucer’s Man of Law’s Tale, Boccaccio’s Decameron 5.2, and Gower’s Tale of Constance,’’ examines Chaucer’s tale in light of its analogues. The issue of the ‘‘orient’’ slips into the background, as happens in a number of the book’s discussions, as the author delves into her analysis of the differences and similarities between Chaucer and his sources. The result is that we get neither a solid philological study nor a thematic and theoretical discussion. Philology, as nineteenth-century scholars understood the term, has much to offer medieval scholars. This book reminds us that interdisciplinary knowledge applied to the entire written record of the past, including runic inscriptions, law codes, folktales , and high poetry or literature, and used systematically opens up themes and topics in the literature often overlooked by more theoretical approaches. Chapter 3, ‘‘Two Oriental Queens from Chaucer’s Legend of Good Women: Cleopatra and Dido,’’ declares its subject, ‘‘another side of the Orient . . . the locale of secret pleasures and sexual excess’’ (p. 45), in the first sentence. This is fair enough, and virtually a commonplace of Western literature from Virgil to Chaucer. But here too I began to wonder why these two had been singled out. One of the more interesting aspects of The Legend of Good Women is that the women Chaucer chooses are from many different regions of the ancient world, and that Chaucer appears to challenge some of the received views of ‘‘oriental’’ women, as indeed with Dido, Cleopatra, and Medea. Unfortunately, this nuance, which is precisely what singles Chaucer out on this topic and makes his discussion of these famous women interesting, is lacking in the discussion . Chapter 4, ‘‘The Squire’s Tale,’’ argues that although the tale represents a cornucopia of Eastern elements (motifs, themes, setting), its structure is European, even though it also exhibits traits of the framed narrative, a genre we know originated in the East. Arguing that ‘‘interlace ’’ is European (pp...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 315-318
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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