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REVIEWS With all men, sage and churl and monk and mime, Who knew not as we know the soul sublime, and comments, ‘‘He further imparts that if ‘we’ cannot speak to Chaucer as did ‘sage and churl and monk and mime,’ we know (as they did not) Chaucer’s soul sublime.’’ Prendergast’s larger context implies that the Victorians did not understand Chaucer’s sublime soul either, whereas we understand both them and Chaucer; but they did at least evidently love and value the poet in ways that we have largely lost. ‘‘Sublime’’ is not a word in our own academic vocabulary. Stephanie Trigg’s recent study of the reception of Chaucer conveys much more sympathetically that urge to identify, to recover, to restore. At the start of his coda, Prendergast asks, ‘‘Why have printers, poets, antiquarians and academics kept returning to Chaucer’s body?’’ Trigg’s work would suggest it is due to something unique about Chaucer. Prendergast explains his own return, ‘‘If this book has been about anything, it has been about how the corpse of the author and the corpus of his works are vitalized by a mortuary imaginary that is not limited to an academic understanding of fidelity and infidelity.’’ It is a covert recognition that an unfettered response can have more vitality than an academic one, and that the academic discourse of the book precludes any celebration of that vitality. Helen Cooper Cambridge University Sarah Rees-Jones, ed. Learning and Literacy in Medieval England and Abroad. Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 3. Turnhout: Brepols, 2003. Pp. 222. $70.00. The essays in this volume chronicle the slow expansion of literacy from a craft skill embedded in an imported language of power and prestige to a common capacity exercised across the multilingual landscape of medieval English society. Or so the chronological arrangement of the articles implies; the editorial intention is unclear since, oddly, the book contains not a word from Sarah Rees Jones. An anonymous three-paragraph preface explains that the volume was assembled ‘‘in celebration PAGE 345 345 ................. 11491$ CH13 11-01-10 14:02:49 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER of the thirtieth anniversary of the foundation of the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of York,’’ and that most of its contributors ‘‘completed their post-graduate work at the University of York’’ (p. vii). (This is all we are told about them; there is no information on the current status or affiliation of the contributors.) The preface is followed by a short (four-page) introduction, written not by the editor but by an illustrious ringer, Derek Pearsall. Celebrating the Centre for its pioneering interdisciplinarity, Professor Pearsall identifies this volume’s focus on literacy—the question ‘‘How did people know what they knew and learn what they learnt?’’ (p. 2)—as a core issue for modern medieval studies. It is ironic that a book apparently designed to trace the widening channels of medieval knowledge has so much the feeling of a coterie publication itself. Of course one can, and I did, read the articles and learn from them without knowing what the editor was thinking or who all the authors are. The lack of editorial care is visible in more crucial ways, however. Several papers could have used stronger copy-editing, and the proofreading has been similarly lax. Still more important, a few articles would have been considerably improved by tightening, trimming , and/or focusing—the sort of changes a good editor should suggest . Only a few of the assembled articles address themselves explicitly to a wider context of theories about literacy. Katherine Zieman’s ‘‘Reading, Singing, and Understanding: Constructions of the Literacy of Women Religious in Late Medieval England’’ is, to my mind, the article that most satisfactorily combines theoretical sophistication with a broadly important discussion of a particular area of research. Zieman eschews any essentializing characterizations, offering her analysis of how nuns understood the liturgy they sang as a deep description of one particular form of literacy. Most of these nuns could read, memorize, and sing Latin, without understanding what it meant—a condition Zieman labels ‘‘liturgical literacy’’ (p. 106). The more educated male clerics, by contrast, possessed ‘‘grammatical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 345-350
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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