In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

REVIEWS Trotula is particularly insightful. But some may question Desmond’s reading of the stories of Clytemnestra and Pasiphaë as exempla of ‘‘female agency and even sexual autonomy’’ (p. 139). Likewise her contention that the Wife ‘‘can knock [Jankyn] down; he can—and does—knock her out’’ misreads the Wife’s Ali-esque ring mastery. For Desmond, that the Wife is ever ‘‘on top’’ is only a momentary illusion. The last chapter explores Christine’s ‘‘vehement correction to the textual tradition of misogyny’’ (p. 146). Desmond’s study of Christine’s relations with her sources and her peers displays first-rate scholarship on the Querelle and on medieval literary ethics. This excellent chapter (revising an earlier publication) has nothing to do with Foucault or with the modern ‘‘policing of S/M,’’ though they return for an unearned bow in a two-page ‘‘afterword’’ that attempts to unify all the discrete chapters and bring home the thesis that the ‘‘erotics of sexual difference . . . achieves legibility through violence’’ in Roman culture (colonial, ‘‘slaveowning ,’’ and imperial) and in ‘‘medieval marriage and desire’’ (p. 166). At its best, Desmond’s book reveals details in the history of culture and erotic violence in Ovid and his medieval disciples, offering generous quotations from all the primary texts, useful to students and scholars alike. Those who see the function of criticism as the indictment of ‘‘heteropatriarchy ’’ throughout time will likely agree with the narrative Desmond constructs in linking these amatory texts. But others might find that Desmond’s book, with its reductive narratives and in its exclusionary discourses of antiheterosexuality, risks becoming an instance of what Frank Lentricchia has called ‘‘pre-reading,’’ in which political and theoretical arguments, bound up with theory-speak and jargon, predetermine meaning and overwhelm the act of reading. Michael Calabrese California State University–Los Angeles Steve Ellis, ed. Chaucer: An Oxford Guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Pp. xxiv, 644. $38.00 paper. Steve Ellis’s hefty Chaucer: An Oxford Guide contains thirty-six essays plus an Introduction and Postscript, each by a different authoritative specialist. The essays are grouped in five sections: ‘‘Historical Contexts’’ PAGE 485 485 ................. 16596$ CH13 11-01-10 14:08:21 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER on biographical, historical, and cultural topics; ‘‘Literary Contexts’’ on sources and contemporary texts; ‘‘Readings’’ on theoretical approaches; ‘‘Afterlife’’ on editions and imaginative responses; and ‘‘Study Resources ,’’ a guide to printed and electronic reference works. With a caveat or two, it is a useful reference anthology, and its reasonable price makes it a volume that students and others can afford. The book’s essays sometimes are and sometimes are not a sign of the times. Saddam Hussein is in the Oxford Guide (under ‘‘The Carnivalesque ’’!), but Adam Pinkhurst is not. The writing acknowledges the calamitous war in Iraq but not torture in its unofficial or federally sanctioned forms. The new millennium also hovers behind the anthology in that several essays evaluate Chaucer with the confidence of the twentieth century completed while recognizing the continuing validity of arguments made then. However, some essays express interest in tales and topics that haven’t recently garnered much scholarly attention. For instance, the essayists most frequently discuss the Canterbury Tales, with The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and The Pardoner’s Tale mentioned often. The guide confirms that The Parson’s Tale’s reputation is firmly restored. If the guide is a register of critical interest, it’s therefore somewhat unusual that The Knight’s Tale is repeatedly discussed as a test case and example. The ‘‘Historical Contexts’’ section voices the current refrain of how difficult it is to tie Chaucer, with any simple confidence, to specific historical events. The descriptions of other scholars’ historical studies and the essays themselves model the tentative and subjunctive language that’s necessary when we try to draw connections between Chaucer’s poetry and his contemporary world. The entry on ‘‘Nationhood’’ in this section is another register of recent interest (one that would now include David Wallace’s more recent work), while the chapter on ‘‘Chivalry’’ seems to belong to a former age. The book also registers present-day sophisticated uses of literary theory to study Chaucer in...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 485-489
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.