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REVIEWS God,’’ ‘‘set apart from Rome yet possessed of Christian law’’ (pp. 97, 103). (Cardinal Wolsey manages no such trick.) Such touches are indicative of the book’s crafting. Angels on the Edge trains its focus on England. Yet while the category that dare not speak its name (the term ‘‘nation’’ is absent from the index) stays foregrounded, the perspective of our surveying shifts. Lavezzo ’s chapters will appeal according to the interests individual readers bring. My heightened moments came during her original analysis of understudied maps, but personal proclivities aside, most outstanding is Lavezzo’s virtuoso introduction. Grounded in medieval evidence yet leavened by theoretical prompts, these lucid pages will become required reading for many. If one consequence of the introduction’s success is that it steals some thunder from ensuing chapters, this seems a fair exchange for a performance of such verve and erudition. There are times, during what follows, when one desires this book to be other than it is. Lavezzo entertains many questions, but others arise: How does this Higden mappamundi compare to others that survive? What challenges to English and Irish marginality does Gerald’s work on Wales introduce? And what about the rest of the far-flung Canterbury Tales? Much might be gained through increased attention to each text’s synchrony of complications; yet compromised, by consequence, would be the sleek verticality that makes Angels on the Edge literally a trailblazing study. No meandering here: this book takes us places. Daniel Birkholz University of Texas at Austin Seth Lerer, ed. The Yale Companion to Chaucer. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. Pp. ix, 420. $65.00 The most obvious reason for the flood of companions to Chaucer and medieval literature in recent years is economic. Universities have largely renounced their commitment to underwriting the costs of academic publishing, demanding of their presses that they publish with an eye firmly fixed on the bottom line. Since companions can be marketed for something akin to ‘‘textbook adoption,’’ they are potentially more profitable than books whose intellectual or scholarly agenda is, to use PAGE 511 511 ................. 16596$ CH13 11-01-10 14:08:32 PS STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER the derogatory commercial idiom, ‘‘narrowly specialist.’’ The danger of this situation—and one that reaches far beyond the ‘‘companion’’ phenomenon —is that organizing academic publishing around market conditions is not exactly the best recipe for the production of good and useful work. This is not to say that companions serve no purpose beyond helping to right the balance sheets of academic presses. Perhaps a more useful way to think about the companion phenomenon is to ask what pedagogical purpose they might serve that would not be as well or easily served by assigning critical essays or chapters on the works being studied. The answer most companions give, at least implicitly by way of their format, is that our students need a large number of snapshots of various kinds of historical, cultural, and literary backgrounds—a few pages on the Three Estates, a few pages on medieval science, a few pages on Boethius, and so on. Such a format produces a rhetorical pressure toward dispensing information rather than exhibiting and teaching an interpretive relation to the text, if only because it is hard to build much of an interpretive relation in a small amount of space dedicated to a topic that can be easily marked out and named. The Yale Companion to Chaucer gives a different and more interesting answer. As Seth Lerer says in his Introduction, the idea of this companion is to provide a small number of scholars the full space of a thirty-page-or-so essay to explore topics, not only in greater depth than is typical, but in ways that model for students various kinds of interpretive skills and thoughtful consideration of substantive critical concerns. To facilitate a more interpretive relation to the material, the volume construes its topics much more loosely than do other companions. James Simpson’s contribution, for instance, is titled ‘‘Chaucer as a European Writer.’’ As Simpson takes it, this topic means something quite different from a sketch of Chaucer’s debts to French and Italian poetry; it...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 511-514
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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