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STUDIES IN THE AGE OF CHAUCER welcome as an addition to the range of works available in English. One hopes, however, that the existence of this version will not preclude the eventual publication of another English translation, based on a specific manuscript. CAROLINE D. ECKHARDT The Pennsylvania State University SUSAN CRANE. Insular Romance: Politics, Faith, and Culture in Anglo­ Norman and Middle English Literature. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1986. Pp. ix, 262. $30.00. Insular Romance isa book that should stiragood many scholars ofmedieval romance to do penance for their sins of omission. It takes what should long ago have been the obvious step of looking at English romance as a phe­ nomenon not ofa singlelanguagebut ofasingle culture, of England under Angevin rule. The romances in Anglo-Norman and Middle English are considered together, and the results are consistently illuminating. Crane does not deny that differences exist between versions of the same romances in the twolanguages-heranalyses of paired versions are indeedamong the many fine things in the book-but she also shows clearly how much all these insular romances have in common that consistently distinguishes them from romances produced on the Continent. It has for long been a habit among critics of English romances to apologize for their quality in comparison with their French counterparts. Their general lack of irony or ambiguity, their frequent na1vete, and their unresponsiveness to high courtly idealism have all too often been damned as "charming" or explained in terms of their having been designed for popular audiences. Crane's approach is to look not at what they fail to achieve but at what they do achieve and why. The results are fresh and thought-provoking and often convey to the reader the kind of conviction that comes from recognizing something long half-known but never before formulated. Her central thesis, argued on several fronts, is that insular romances responded to a specific set of political and feudal conditions that were different from those obtaining elsewhere in Europe. The interests of the barony in England lay more with administration than with militarism, and 206 REVIEWS they found support for the rights they claimed not through rebellion but through established customs of feudal tenure and judicial process, Ro­ mance themes in turn place less emphasis on adventure and the crises that set "private identity and public expectations" at odds, and more on "exter­ nal, political crises that are met by a fully worthy and capable hero who senses no problematic conflict between his own desires and those of his society." The hero is self-interested, but in ways that are in harmony with the interests of his family and the larger community: The romances ofEnglish heroes picture baronial claims that rise above the merely legal to the unquestionably just, and join blood lines inextricably to property rights. Political interests become universal goods as the hero's impulse towards personal achievement supports a broader, impersonal impulse towards social sta­ bility. Beyond this wide-ranging harmony are the pagans, usurpers, monsters, and wrong-headed kings who challenge properly established order. [P. 14] There are many times in the book when one hesitates at the broad historical generalizations that Crane makes, but in terms of the romances the argument is impressively consistent and persuasive. The central thesis makes sense ofthe poems' handling ofeverything from love to language by way of exile and religion: "A persistent confidence in custom, law, and social order infuses their accounts of dispossession and reinstatement" (p. 23). Institutional procedures for ensuring peace and right rest on the pervasive reliability of language itself. The procedures that the English heroes demand are based in the validity of language in arguments, promises, testimony, depositions, and oaths. And since the language ofgood people is trustworthy and even the language of deceivers is usually transparent and readily exposed, the heroes' faith in the capacity oflegal pleading isneither misplacednor disappointed. [Pp. 70-71] This tells us why attempts to read these texts in narrowly Marxist or Saussurean terms will not work while insisting on their central concern with both politics and language. Their lack of linguistic irony no longer needs apology: it becomes a virtue in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1949-0755
Print ISSN
0190-2407
Pages
pp. 206-208
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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