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STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER Benson follows with a study of the contrast between The Knight's Tale and The Miller's Tale a "triumph in dialectic" (p. 64) that cannot be contained by the play between the personalities oftheirtellers. The Miller's Tale is too polished, he claims, for a man who breaks down doors with his head. Benson proceeds in similar manner with the fabliaux and the re­ ligious tales of the Prioress and the Second Nun. It is curious that Benson doesnot dealsubstantiallywith the Wife ofBath,a real testcase: wouldshe have strained too seriously his purpose of playing down dramatic links between teller and tale? While I find thediscussionsofthe tales themselvesflaccid,devoid ofnew scholarship, and a bit preachy,I cannot understand why the old-fashioned "dramatic theory" is incompatible with Benson's loosely conceived insis­ tence on The Canterbury Tales as a drama ofstyle. By refusing to situate the "poetic" ofthe varioustalesin alargermedievalgenericframework,Benson diminishes Chaucer's power as a master-and as a mordant critic-of established styles in the continental vernaculars. Benson's main point, that Chaucer is "both a good Christian and a good poet," is full of conviction, but is not in itselfprofound or cogent. Benson has accepted as his forum old-line Chaucerian criticism, without trying to renew it• with any of the perspectives ofnon-Chaucerian,moderncriticismthat might give thrust to his project: this is strictly an inside job whose main intentseems to win its author a respectable place in a rather dusty hall of fame-a triumph, incidentally, that Robert Frank too generously bestows on the jacket: "It is the freshest and most illuminating treatment of Chaucer since Charles Muscatine." A reader less satisfied than Benson with the parameters of orthodox criticism will find this book parochial and complacent. Indeed, exceptfor occasionalreferences, thisbook could for themost part havebeen written twenty years ago. EUGENE VANCE Emory University CONSTANCEH.BERMAN, CHARLESW CONNELL, andJUDITHRICEROTHS­ CHILD, eds. The Worlds ofMedieval Women: Creativity, Influence, and Imagination. Literary andHistorical Perspectives of the Middle Ages, vol. 2. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 1985. Pp. xv, 163. $9.50 paper. The dozen papers in this beautifully produced slim volume were first presented at the 1983 meeting of the Southeastern Medieval Association. 178 REVIEWS Given the conditions inherent in a conference format-brevity of indi­ vidual papers andnarrownessof focus-the collection doesremarkably well in offering a rounded view of "the worlds of medieval women." Though its tendency is weighted toward the religious, the temporal range is tenth through fifteenth centuries (Hrotswitha to Margery Kempe and Henryson) with literary materials drawn from Latin, German, French, Scandinavian, and English. One's interest begins at the cover, which features the photograph of a thirteenth-century seal, that ofJeanne de Chatillon, Countess of Alen�on. The seal and its social context are explained in a fascinating brief note by Brigitte Rezak, of the National Archives (Paris). In the first paper Katarina Wilson weaves a close argument demonstrating the pedagogically and ethically oriented intentionsof Hrotswitha in incorporating scientificlearn­ ing into two of her plays. Susan Straubhar's survey of the significant role of women poets in early Scandinavian society and literature was for me one of the most interesting in the collection; one hopes that the author will remind us at greater length of this forgotten tradition. Charles Connell's discussion of HeloYse's letters struck me as an irri­ tatingly trendy version of a banal argument: that HeloYse's emotional demand for comfort from Abelard constitutes a distinctively feminine viewpoint opposed to Abelard's distanced orthodoxy (presumably a dis­ tinctively masculine viewpoint). On the feminist spectrum Connell oc­ cupies the right-wing extreme, characterizing the foregoing as "this essen­ tial difference between men and women" (p. 28) and "the basic difference between men and women" (p. 32). The position is problematic for a number of reasons. One is that it shares a premise with sexism and racism (the premise of essential difference). The other is that it ignores the social construction of self and of gender, which has been rather a major topic of intellectual investigation in several disciplines during this century. It is perhaps this ahistoricism which canproduce such sentimental anachronism as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 178-180
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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