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STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER concerns that are current preoccupations across many disciplines: England and Europe; markets and economies; canon formation and literary history; printing and state power; genealogy and succession. ‘‘History of the book’’ is here proposed and explored as a branch of cultural theory , and with often interesting results, although sometimes a vague sense that evidence is sought to demonstrate the truth of particular models, rather than responded to for what it can suggest on its own terms. The best of the essays ask new questions and suggest some new approaches, particularly in their understanding of the complicated relationships between manuscript and print, between printers and the markets they both cultivated and responded to, and between Englishnesses of various sorts. Julia Boffey Queen Mary, University of London Kathy Lavezzo. Angels on the Edge of the World: Geography, Literature, and English Community, 1000–1534. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006. Pp. xiv, 191. $65.00 cloth, $29.95 paper. With Kathy Lavezzo as a guide, one feels in capable hands—even in a landscape of daunting proportions. Angels on the Edge of the World brings together a swath of understudied material, orders it with a clean argument , and, in so doing, provides a compelling introduction to three discourses whose ‘‘subtle [intertwining]’’ (p. 73) has grown in importance to medievalists of late. Lavezzo’s focal concerns are ‘‘geography’’ (including cartography), ‘‘literature’’ (most often historical writing), and ‘‘English community,’’ a category whose limitations are communicated in the interrogative section title—‘‘A Medieval English Nation?’’ (p. 8)—that serves as her point of departure. The book’s dates are daringly splayed, but each chapter takes as its focus a carefully historicized textual location. Starring roles go to Aelfric, Anglo-Saxon homilist (c. 950– 1010); Gerald de Barri (a.k.a. Gerald of Wales), in his capacity as ethnographer of Ireland (c. 1187–89); Ranulph Higden, compiler of the Polychronicon (c. 1327–60); the ubiquitous Geoffrey Chaucer, as represented by The Man of Law’s Tale (c. 1394); and—an outlier in disciplinPAGE 508 508 ................. 16596$ CH13 11-01-10 14:08:31 PS REVIEWS ary terms, since his ‘‘texts’’ are processions—Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (c. 1472–1530), adviser to Henry VIII. Angels on the Edge of the World argues that ‘‘for medieval English writers and mapmakers . . . the image of their geographic otherworldliness contributes to the production of national identity’’ (p. 14). Refinements on this core idea of England’s ‘‘geographic marginalization’’ (p. 82) proliferate , the valence of each being determined by local interpretive needs. Thus we encounter the radical ‘‘geographic alterity’’ of the English (p. 10), their special status as a ‘‘people set apart from the world’’ (p. 82), their ‘‘geographic remoteness’’ (p. 53), ‘‘privileged placement’’ (p. 50), ‘‘exceptional strangeness’’ (p. 11), ‘‘vulnerability’’ (p. 37), and more. From a textual standpoint, none of these claims rings false. This comment says much about the critical due-diligence of Angels, yet Lavezzo ’s literary and cartographic readings do not impose so much as suggest themselves. Her most arresting claim concerns the persistence of England’s investment in its ‘‘geographic otherness’’ (p. 104). As the book hammers home, a counterintuitive attachment to the concept of their island-realm’s constitutive marginality (dare one call this spatial essentialism?) continues to haunt insular imaginations long after events such as the discovery of America ‘‘should have demolished the notion of English geographic isolation’’ (p. 25). Angels dwells less on establishing England’s marginalized identity than on articulating the ‘‘two-fold meaning’’ (p. 76) inherent in this formulation. Lavezzo is ferocious in her attention to the profound ‘‘geographic ambivalence lying at the heart of England’s emergent identity’’ (p. 70). Indeed, ambivalence drives her argument (itself quite clear, paradoxically ). Many readings begin by tracing a line in which the disenfranchised English are maligned as barbarous or backward (pp. 37, 104) only to double-back and pursue a course that seizes upon the ‘‘advantages of England’s border positioning’’ (p. 82). But Lavezzo’s interpretive tacking is neither indulged without cause (her works are highly polysemous) nor conducted without payoff. Century after century, ‘‘marginality and exceptionalism’’ emerge as sides of the same coin: the ‘‘two mutually constitutive traits that define...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 508-511
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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