The introduction briefly outlines the literary culture of fifteenth-century Scotland and the contexts in which Gavin Douglas and William Dunbar were writing. Each text is described and some pertinent critical discourses regarding the works are discussed. Next, the narrative grotesque is situated within a broader critical history related to the critical term ‘grotesque’, which arose in reference to architectural decorations in the late fifteenth century before being adopted into other intellectual discourses. The narrative grotesque is defined as a distinct variety of the grotesque, since it is not limited to visual images and, rather, extends to textual corruptions, hybridisations, and ruptures that are paired with the dissonant affective reactions of horror and humour. The Palyce of Honour and The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo are shown to be exemplary starting points for the wider application of the narrative grotesque, since both exhibit numerous and varied ‘grotesqueries’.
The second wife’s response is demonstrated to be a sort of distorted mirror of the first wife’s: she adopts many of the motifs, expressions, and concepts introduced in the first response, but reforms them anew. She also flytes her husband, but her flyting is more concerned with the performance of courtliness and courtly love. Her response includes an inset literary complaint, which is wholly unusual for the mode. In addition to highlighting similarities between her complaint and that delivered by the dreamer in Palyce, Richard Holland’s The Buke of the Howlat and The Quare of Jelusy are presented as Scottish intertexts. Concepts of melancholia and lovesickness are interwoven throughout her speech to create a grotesquely warped conglomeration of signification.
This chapter presents the French courtly love debate, the demande d’amour, as the scaffolding that supports William Dunbar’s longest poem, The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo. The demande d’amour is assessed against the conventions typical of the French form as well as a near-contemporary Scottish example, Sir Gilbert Hay’s inset demande in The Buik of King Alexander the Conquerour. This leads into a broader discussion of poetics in fifteenth-century Scotland, especially as represented in Dunbar’s wider corpus. Next, the composition of the locus amoenus, the frame garden, is contextualised by other examples from Dunbar’s poetry. The narrator’s role in the poem is shown to be highly influential to the concepts of narratology and subjectivity. These various aspects of the text are demonstrated to intersect at moments of narrative grotesque where conventions and expectations are ruptured and reformed in distorted and dissonant ways.
This book introduces a new critical framework for reading medieval texts. The narrative grotesque decentres critical discourse by turning focus to points at which literary texts distort and rupture conventional narratological and poetic boundaries. These boundary-warping grotesques are crystallised at moments affective horror and humour. Two seminal Older Scots works are used to exemplify the multivalent applications of the narrative grotesque: Gavin Douglas’s The Palyce of Honour (c. 1501) and William Dunbar’s The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo (c. 1507). These texts create manifold textual hybridisations, transfigurations, and ruptures in order to interrogate modes of discourse, narratological subjectivities, and medieval genre conventions. Within the liminal space opened up by these textual (de)constructions, it is possible to reconceptualise the ways in which poets engaged with concepts of authenticity, veracity, subjectivity, and eloquence in literary writing during the late medieval period.
This chapter locates Gavin Douglas’s poem, The Palyce of Honour, within a wider medieval tradition of dream vision poetry. Geoffrey Chaucer’s dream vision poems, The House of Fame and The Parliament of Fowls, as well as Robert Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid are presented as intertexts to Douglas’s vision. Douglas’s text is shown to fracture typical expectations of the dream vision landscape, the dreamer’s interaction with this landscape, as well as the narrator’s conceptualisation of the process of recording the dream vision. The poem is then set in conversation with concepts of Italian humanist poetics, which conceived of the poet as a divine conduit, a prophet, that could transmit divinely inspired discourses. The framework of the narrative grotesque is applied in order to elucidate the ways in which Douglas warps the medieval genre to integrate humanist philosophies of poetics into his work.
This chapter starts by reassessing the significance of the intellectual hostility expressed towards Franz Joseph Gall’s former assistant, Johann Gaspar Spurzheim, by the Edinburgh physician John Gordon. This opens the chapter up to the first substantial assessment of the content, significance and consequences of Spurzheim’s lecture tour, which began in London, took him across the English provinces and saw him also lecture on, and practically demonstrate, phrenology first in Ireland and latterly in Scotland. The chapter advances an unprecedented body of detail with regard to the content of the lectures delivered in London in particular, with substantial quotation from unreprinted contemporary accounts of these events. The significance and impact of Spurzheim’s later symposia is also discussed at length, with particular reference being made to his lectures in Bath and Bristol, and his tour of Irish venues which saw him speak in Dublin and Cork prior to a long tour of Scotland.
Robinson as professor and defender of ‘America’s best idea’
Steve Gronert Ellerhoff and Kathryn E. Engebretson
For a quarter century, Marilynne Robinson taught creative writing at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. As such, she holds a significant place in the storied lineage of that institution and to the production of workshop writing. This essay will contextualise Robinson’s tenure as a professor and reflect on her opinions on the course of American education. Combined with testimony from former students, the essay covers aspects of her working life that reveal how indivisible it was from her work as a writer. Much of the advice she gave to her students shows an instructor aware of the bigger picture of American education, while maintaining an interpersonal and small-group insistence upon drawing out complexity, emotional truth, and the vulnerable reaches of her pupils’ imaginations.
This essay juxtaposes the inheritance of transcendentalism found in Marilynne Robinson’s novels and essays with the philosophical retrieval of Emerson and Thoreau in Stanley Cavell’s work. Focusing on questions of the ordinary, inwardness, and scepticism, it argues for productive affinities between Robinson and Cavell, characterised by their reactivation of transcendentalist modes. Exploring solipsistic currents in Housekeeping alongside questions of acknowledgement in the Gilead trilogy, this essay contrasts Robinson’s foregrounding of a mysterious, numinous ordinary with the sceptical discovery of the ordinary traced by Cavell. Both Robinson and Cavell give a decisive voice to transcendentalism in this conversation of the ordinary – Cavell’s claims for the philosophical precision of Emerson and Thoreau’s responses to scepticism consonant with Robinson’s admiration for the ‘rigor with which they fasten on problems of language, of consciousness’.
The book ends with a coda which illustrates and analyses the enduring presence of phrenological imagery within a culture that retains little memory of the theory itself. Towards the close of his presidency, Donald Trump was on several occasions mocked by political cartoonists who purported to analyse and explain his behaviour and aspirations by mapping these out upon a recognisable phrenological map of his profile. The implications of this act demonstrate the continued presence of phrenology in a contemporary culture very different to that in which the pseudoscience originated.
The concluding chapter examines the persistence of phrenology into the twentieth century, and the relative success of a small number of practitioners in Britain who maintained not merely a programme of instruction but also continued to offer consultations and cranial analysis. The chapter contemplates the significance of the British Phrenological Society which was founded by Lorenzo Fowler in 1886 and which survived until 1967. The activities, pedagogical programme and publications of the society are acknowledged, as is the ostensible value of the endorsement it provided to practitioners through the status of membership or fellowship signified by postnomial letters. The effective cessation of phrenological practice in the decades that followed the society’s dissolution is noted.