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REVIEWS medieval and world literature, or as background reading for English literature or Chaucer. With respect to the latter, it invites com­ parison with Robert Miller's Chaucer: Sources and Backgrounds (1977), at least with that work's one-hundred-page section entitled "Modes ofLove." Miller deals minimally with lyric and does not give as generous a portion of Andreas as does O'Donoghue. Where Miller provides extracts from romances of Troy and antiquity, O'Donoghue'sromancematerialsare ofArthur andTristan.Miller's selections tend to emphasize the medieval misogynistic point of view, whereas O'Donoghue's give a much larger picture. It is odd that no women writers are represented. MARCELLE THIEBAUX St.John's University, New York GLENDING OLSON, Literature as Recreation in the Later Middle Ages. Ithaca, N.Y., and London: Cornell University Press, 1982. Pp. 245. $19.50. In an essay published a decade ago, Donald Howard remarked that "we don't really understand the 'function' ofpoetry in various civilizations, or even at various periods ofour own; and don't know why men write or read poems, not even why we do ourselves" ("Medieval Poems and Medieval Society," M&H, n.s., 3 [1972]: 111). Scholars have added to our understanding in recent years, notably in such studies as Richard Firth Green's Poets and Prince­ pleasers (1980) andJanet Coleman's English Literature in History, 1350-1400 (1981). Glending Olson'sLiterature as Recreation in the Later Middle Ages deepens even further, and from a refreshing vantage point, our perception ofthe historical landscape on which literary critics now find themselves working. Howard's dust-jacket blurb announces the book as "a major historical discovery about the nature oflate medieval literature, one offive or six such discoveries made in the present century. Glending Olson has produced not an interpretation or a theory but documented facts, facts that will alter 213 STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER our understanding of what medieval writers and readers thought about literature." Curiosity about Howard's system of ranking aside, the characterization is perfectly right: Literature asRecreation is very much a book of facts, facts that are likely either to realign one's ideas about the ways medieval literature was thought about in its own time or to strengthen some basic assumptions about medi­ eval attitudes to literature. Olson's aim is "to redress an imbalance in modern scholarship that fosters, intentionally or not, the notion that medieval literary thought had nothing but indifference or contempt for the purely pleasurable" (p. 13). The point ofdeparture is disarmingly simple: "Literature gives pleasure" (p. 19). Underlying this proposition for the Middle Ages, however, is a complex (and at times equally disarming) array ofcommentaries concerned not only with describ­ ing pleasure and its sources but, more important, with justifying pleasure, including that to be gained from literature. One assumes that there has never been any real doubt that the Middle Ages recognized, somehow or other, the existence of literary pleasure. Just how medieval writers and audiences dealt with pleasure is far more crucial to our understanding of their literature: "It is the justification of pleasure in terms of its effect on an audience that is the principal concern ofthis book.... How can pleasure be profit­ able?" (p. 35). Olson begins by tracing the familiar path descending from Horace's comments on prodesse and de!ectare in Ars poetica. Al­ though Horace clearly attributes the greatest value to poems that both delight and instruct, it was the non-Aristotelian disjunction of these capacities that opened the way for a pervasive medieval em­ phasis on the didactic role of literature (as, for example, in the commentary On the Thebaid attributed to Fulgentius the My­ thographer), which has been ardently elaborated upon by D. W. Robertson and his followers. There are some important detours along this route, however, and it is in glimpsing them that we begin to see the landscape as Olson believes we should see it. Augustine, for example, at least recognizes that a fiction can be enjoyable without being pernicious (in his treatment offabu!a in the So!tfo­ quia), as do Isidore ofSeville and Macrobius (in the Saturnalia). Less 214 REVIEWS well-known commentators, among them John of Capua and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 213-216
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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