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STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER similarity plays out here has the unfortunate effect of making critical differences seem largely a matter of generational shifts. There is discussion , for instance, of what it meant for the field of Chaucer studies to be organized around a split between historicism in a Robertsonian mode and a New Critical formalism, and what it means for those critical modes to have been supplanted by new kinds of historicism. This is all good and useful, but it does tend to underemphasize the question of critical difference today, and it is misleading about the reasons for critical difference as such. Both undergraduates and graduate students are already subject to the temptation to imagine critical difference as a matter of distinctions between different schools or ‘‘camps’’ defined by competing beliefs and methodologies. This only reinforces students’ tendency to think that one of their main tasks is to decide what critical school or methodology to subscribe to, and that doing so will tell them what to do when faced with a text. It is pedagogically crucial to help students see that they cannot overcome their own difference from themselves by becoming recruits to a school or methodology; that signification is endlessly productive and endlessly problematic; and that both Chaucer’s poetry and our critical engagements with it are organized around problems rather than ‘‘positions.’’ I would not expect the contributors to this volume to take issue with such claims. In fact, there are many moments in the volume that capture just such a sense of what drives poetry and criticism. But then perhaps it would have been useful, and truer to the mission of the volume, for it to have given more space—to invoke Simpson’s phrase again—to developing its own rhetoric of ‘‘rough surfaces.’’ Marking the discontinuities and ongoing questions arising not only between but within each contribution might more fully model for students the idea that criticism, far from issuing from a position of mastery and sureness, is an unfolding project continually troubled both by its objects and by itself. Mark Miller University of Chicago Katherine C. Little. Confession and Resistance: Defining the Self in Late Medieval England. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006. Pp. vii, 196. $27.50. On the top-ten list of the scholarly obsessions of our field over the last twenty years, Lollardy and the nature of the subject must be at or near PAGE 514 514 ................. 16596$ CH13 11-01-10 14:08:33 PS REVIEWS the head. Seminal studies on these topics from the late 1980s and early 1990s—such as, respectively, Ann Hudson’s The Premature Reformation (1988) and Lee Patterson’s Chaucer and the Subject of History (1991)— have shaped the direction of much research and continue to serve as touchstones. In this regard, Katherine Little’s first book arrives as a shrewd intervention into critical history, one that offers something new by showing how two familiar areas of research bear on each other in ways surprisingly little noticed. In arguing that ‘‘Wycliffites and the controversy they engendered . . . should be understood in terms of the history and the sources of the self’’ (p. 1) and, in turn, that the vernacular literature of the period responds to the ‘‘Wycliffite concerns’’ of ‘‘the ideological power of identification and the capacity of language to represent the interior’’ (p. 80), the book uncovers a relatively untrodden path through scholarly domains that have begun to feel crowded. While readers may not always agree with how Little defines the nature of the Wycliffite impact on subject formation (or, as she prefers, self-definition ), or with how she describes poets such as Chaucer, Gower, and Hoccleve responding to this impact, she nonetheless succeeds at opening up a productive new strand of inquiry. As the book’s title indicates, the Wycliffite critique of auricular confession serves as the historical fulcrum that the study, as a whole, investigates . Between the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and the late fourteenth century, Little sees normative self-definition as largely the product of verbal technologies associated with confession in particular and pastoral instruction of the laity in general. More specifically, the principal means of institutional production and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 514-517
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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