- Love, Life, and Lust in Heinrich Kaufringer’s Verse Narratives by Albrecht Classen
The author of this translation of the works of Heinrich Kaufringer (ca. 1400) is undoubtedly correct when he maintains that this German poet deserves recognition beyond (medieval) German studies. To that end a careful and accurate translation of Kaufringer’s corpus of around thirty short verse-narratives—complete with an [End Page 251] insightful introduction—is both desirable and essential. Sadly, Albrecht Classen’s Kaufringer book fails to do this job, and as a text for teaching, it is most definitely not fit for purpose. That is not to say that Classen does not make some good decisions: by resituating Kaufringer’s work in its manuscript context, for example, the reader gets a real sense of the literary horizons of certain late medieval readers (in Germany). However, errors and inconsistencies abound to such an extraordinary extent throughout the whole book that one wonders quite how the author could have deemed his own text ready for publication.
The Introduction (pp. vii–xxvii) sets alarm bells ringing from the moment reference is made to Giovanni Boccaccio, Franco Sacchetti, and Poggio Bracciolini as authors of “short verse narrative[s]” (p. vii) in the later Middle Ages. The overview of German literature that follows is similarly erroneous, culminating as it does in the observation—at best garbled, at worst utterly misleading—that sixteenth-century authors such as Pauli, Wickram, Kirchhof, Lindener, Schuhmann, and “Wilhelm [sic] Frey” (p. ix) “embedded their collections in a narrative framework with a prologue and epilogue, or interjected personal opinions similar to those we find them [sic] in other European literatures, thereby authoritatively underscoring their predominant authority function” (pp. ix–x). Poor English grammar (“as some narrative motifs suggests,” p. xii), poor expression (“a number of documents … today all housed today …,” p. xii), and dubious content all come to characterize the Introduction as a whole. The reader soon gets to the stage where they are unsure as to what type of error they are dealing with: “Considering the wide range of intriguing topics covered by this poet, including domestic violence, murder, marriage, individual happiness, and the like, it does not [sic] come as a surprise that Kaufringer continues to be somewhat neglected by research” (p. xxi). To make matters worse, Classen does not shy away from groundless (and needless) assertions: “He [Kaufringer] was, to be sure, not a poet dependent upon a patron” (p. xv)—how can we possibly know this? Moreover, his presentation of relevant Germanist scholarship is highly subjective and dominated by references to his own publications while giving short shrift to significant work by scholars such as Klaus Grubmüller and Udo Friedrich who have produced precisely the kind of exacting textual analysis that deserves to be mediated to literary historians who have no German. In the end, however, it is the sheer carelessness on display here that proves most irksome; so just as the translated titles of Kaufringer’s stories seem to vary (“The Canon and the Cobbler [sic]” [pp. v, 49] or “The Canon and the Cobbler’s Wife” [p. xii]; “The Monk as Love Messenger, B” [pp. v, 37] or “The Monk as Messenger of Love” [p. xii]), we should not be surprised to discover that the “endnotes” (p. xxvii) Classen promises as a means of delivering “expansive remarks” never materialize.
The stated goal of Classen’s translation is to make Kaufringer’s narratives “particularly [sic] accessible” (p. xxvii) by offering the reader English texts that are “idiomatically correct” (p. xxvii). Regrettably, the translations fall a long way short of this. Almost every conceivable type of mistake can be found here. Errors of comprehension lead to significant mistranslations and wayward linguistic commentary: “Poland” (p. 3) for Püll (i.e., Apulia); “usurer” (p. 6) for schacher (i.e., robber); confusing MHG meide (maiden) with meiden (stallion) (p. 25, n. 1). The English is poor throughout and pays scant regard to appropriate idiom or register: “They...