Introduction

Engaging Texts
  • Laurel Amtower
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

Christine de Pizan describes herself at the beginning of the Book of the City of Ladies as “sitting alone in [her] study surrounded by books on all kinds of subjects,” where she habitually reads and contemplates the texts before her.1 The picture of the medieval reader, Christine demonstrates the concerns and reactions of a medieval audience to the books that fulfilled and informed their culture. As she reads a misogynist treatise by the writer Mathéolus, whom she informs us is considered an authority by her contemporaries, she offers a response that is at once personally motivated and objectively contextualized: she registers dismay at Mathéolus’s complaints against women, self-doubt that what he says may be true, and finally recognition that this authority must surely be in error. Only after a reasoned consideration does she condemn the ignorant writer who propagates hackneyed ideas that are ultimately harmful to society, lamenting that an auctor would rather continue a negative tradition than critically engage or question it.

Keywords

Europe Amid Propa Posit Topo 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies, trans. Earl Jeffrey Richards (New York: Persea, 1982), p. 3.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Michel Foucault, “The Discourse on Language,” in The Archeology of Knowledge (New York: Pantheon, 1972), p. 229.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    D.W. Robertson, Jr., Preface to Chaucer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962), p. 20–22.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Wolfgang Iser, The Act of Reading (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), p. x.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Derek Attridge, “Innovation, Literature, Ethics: Reading to the Other,” PMLA 114 (1999): 20–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Attridge, “Innovation,” 27; see also Charles Altieri, Canons and Consequences: Reflections on the Ethical Force of Imaginative Ideals (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1990), pp. 21–47; 272.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Jesse M. Gellrich, The Idea of the Book in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985), p. 39. See also Ernst Robert Curaus’s discussion of the “metaphorics of the book” in his European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. Trask (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1953, 1963), pp. 310–11; and Marie-Dominique Chenu, Nature, Man and Society in the Twelfth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), p. 102.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Jonathan Harthan, Books of Hours and their Owners (London: Thames and Hudson, 1977), p. 136; Pamela Sheingorn, “The Wise Mother: The Image of St. Anne Teaching the Virgin Mary,” Gesta 32, no. 1 (1993): 69–80.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971).Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    The text of the riddles can be found in Christian W. M. Grein, ed., Bibliothek der angelsuchsischen poesie (Kassel: G. H. Wigand, 1897), p. lxii; for Aelfric’s Grammar see Julius Zupitza, ed., Grammatik und Glossar (Berlin: Weidmann, 1880), p. 179; Richard Morris, ed., Cursor Mundi, Early English Text Society (hereafter EETS), o.s. 57 (London: Oxford University Press, 1874, 1961), p. 267.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Thomas Arnold, ed., Select English Works of John Wyclif, vol. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1869–71), 69.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    Anglicus Galfridus, Promptorium Parvulorum: The First English-Latin Dictionary, EETS, e.s. 102, ed. A. L. Mayhew (London: Oxford University Press, 1908), p. 368.Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Nathaniel Bacon, An historicall discourse of the uniformity of the government of England (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1962), Preface.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    Hans Kurath and Sherman M. Kuhn, eds., Middle English Dictionary (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1952), s.v. “reden,” 7a.Google Scholar
  15. 17.
    McCarthy, A. J., ed., Book to a Mother. Fordham University Dissertation, 1961, p. 8.25; Maldwyn Mills, Ywain and Gawain, Sir Percyvell of Gales, The Anturs of Arthur (London: Dent, 1992), 1. 2153.Google Scholar
  16. 18.
    This phenomenon has been traced by Colin Morris, The Discovery of the Individual: 1050–1200 (New York: Harper and Row, 1972); Robert Hanning, The Individual in Twelfth-Century Romance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977); and Carolyn Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), among others.Google Scholar
  17. 19.
    Bernard of Clairvaux, Letter 506, Sancti Bernardi Opera, eds. Jean Leclercq, Henri Rochais and C. H. Talbot (Rome: Editiones Cistercienses, 1957–77), reprinted in The Cistercian World: Monastic Writings of the Twelfth Century, ed. and trans. Pauline Matarasso (London: Penguin, 1993), pp. 99–100. The Chaucerian quote appears in Troilus and Criseyde, III. 1357.Google Scholar
  18. 20.
    D. F. McKenzie, Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts (London: The British Library, 1986), p. 4. See also Robert Darnton, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (New York: W. W. Norton, 1996), pp. 169–87; and his The Kiss of Lamourette: Refections in Cultural History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1990), pp. 107–35.Google Scholar
  19. 21.
    Roger Chartier, On the Edge of the Cliff: History, Language, and Practices, trans. Lydia Cochrane (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), p. 88; see also his The Order of Books, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), p. ix.Google Scholar
  20. 22.
    In addition to McKenzies Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts and the works of Chartier and Darnton cited above, see also Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984); and Chartier’s Forms and Meanings (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995). A.J. Minnis’s Medieval Theory of Authorship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) and his Medieval Literary Theory and Criticism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988); Rita Copeland’s Rhetoric, Hermeneutics and Translation in the Middle Ages (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991); Judson Boyce Aliens The Ethical Poetic of the Later Middle Ages (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982); and, more recently, Suzanne Reynold’s Medieval Reading: Grammar, Rhetoric, and the Classical Text (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) have elaborated on scholastic or “institutional” interpretive practices, while Brian Stock’s important study in The Implications of Literacy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983) has documented the extent to which highly individuated reading communities, motivated by similar goals or doctrinal beliefs, could legislate reading responses. The practice and performance of reading in everyday life has been investigated both by Paul Saenger in Space Between Words: The Origins of Silent Reading (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997) and Joyce Coleman in Public Reading and the Reading Public in Late Medieval England and France (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). Michael Camille, Christopher de Hamel, and Pamela Sheingorn, among others, have produced studies demonstrating the potential of physical and iconographic evidence for reconstructing medieval aesthetics.Google Scholar
  21. 23.
    Dives and Pauper, EETS o.s. 275, ed. P. H. Barnum (London: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 82.Google Scholar

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© Laurel Amtower 2000

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  • Laurel Amtower

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