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  • French in Medieval Ireland, Ireland in Medieval French: The Paradox of Two Worlds by Keith Busby
  • Simon Gaunt
French in Medieval Ireland, Ireland in Medieval French: The Paradox of Two Worlds. By Keith Busby. (Medieval Texts and Cultures of Northern Europe, 27.) Turnhout: Brepols, 2017. x + 516 pp., ill.

The last ten years have seen significant interest in the phenomenon of medieval francophonie. While the extensive reach of French in the Middle Ages has always been acknowledged — from Britain to the Holy Land, from Sicily to Scandinavia — until recently this has been viewed using a core–periphery model that saw other parts of Europe imitating French models and adopting French because of the prestige of French culture. This in turn led to the marginalization in the scholarship of the significant manuscript and textual production in French outside France. More recently, however, a different picture has emerged: one in which Norman expansion is a greater driver of the use of French than French culture per se; in which a networked rather than a core–periphery model for understanding why French was used so widely has proved more helpful; in which we are starting to see how independent literary traditions in French emerged in surprising places; and finally in which the French used is more dependent on Picard and Norman scripta than on that of Paris. The attention Keith Busby paid to the place of production of manuscripts in his seminal Codex and Context: Reading Old French Verse Narrative in Manuscript [End Page 592] (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002) was instrumental in stimulating this interest in medieval francophonie. His latest work makes another important contribution to this emerging area of research. While there has been considerable research on the French of England, French in Ireland has been neglected in the scholarship. Busby fills this lacuna with an exhaustive study. A first chapter outlines the political context, the key date being the English (which is to say Anglo-Norman) invasion of Ireland in 1169, while also offering a nuanced and thought-provoking account of the multilingual nature of different strata of Irish society. Chapter 2 surveys Irish textual and manuscript production in French. The book then changes tack, with Chapters 3-5 examining the representation of Ireland and Irish characters in French texts more generally, highlighting how texts alternate between portraying Ireland as a land of marvels, then making reference to historical and political reality. The most informative and original parts of the book are to my mind Chapter 2, which meticulously charts the presence of francophones in medieval Ireland as well as the texts in French produced and copied in Ireland, and then the textual analyses where Busby demonstrates a sometimes detailed knowledge of Irish politics informing Old French texts, particularly romances. If some of the arguments about Irish princesses in well-known medieval romances or about the merveilleux are familiar, the case made for Kilkenny, Waterford, and Dublin as centres of francophone textual activity represents a significant step forward in our knowledge of the medieval francophone world and is underpinned by meticulous research at every step. Similarly, Busby's extensive presentation of the almost entirely unknown La Geste des Engleis en Yrlande is nothing short of revelatory, while his exploration of the paradox of Ireland being on the one hand literally on the edge of the world as medieval thinkers understood it, and yet intimately connected not just to Wales and England, but more significantly and often directly to francophone (and Latinate) Europe, challenges us to rethink our map of how different parts of the medieval francophone world related to each other.

Simon Gaunt
King's College London


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pp. 592-593
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