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The book and the household in late medieval England

Objects of affection recovers the emotional attraction of the medieval book through an extended engagement with a single fifteenth-century literary collection known as Oxford, Bodleian Library Manuscript Ashmole 61. Exploring how the inhabitants of the book’s pages – human and non-human, tangible and intangible – collaborate with its readers then and now, this book addresses the manuscript’s material appeal in the ways it binds itself to different cultural, historical, and material environments. This new materialist manuscript study traces the affective literacy training that the book, produced by a single scribe, provided to a late medieval English household. Its diverse inhabitants are incorporated into the ecology of the book itself as it fashions spiritually generous and socially mindful household members – in the material world they generate and that guides their living, and in the social and spiritual desires that shape their influences in that world.

Editors: and

Encountering The Book of Margery Kempe illuminates the capaciousness of Margery Kempe studies in the twenty-first century. Through multiple, probing ‘encounters’, this innovative collection of essays generates and inspires interdisciplinary, overlapping, supportive, disruptive, and exploratory theoretical and creative approaches to the Book, and is a valuable new critical companion.

Structured around four categories of encounter – textual, internal, external, and performative – the volume suggests particular thematic threads yet reveals the way in which The Book of Margery Kempe resists strict categorisation. The fundamental unruliness of the Book is a touchstone for the analyses in the volume’s chapters, which define and destabilise concepts such ‘autobiography’ or ‘feeling’, and communities of texts and people, both medieval and modern. The chapters, written by leading scholars in Margery Kempe studies, cover a broad range of approaches: theories of psychoanalysis, emotion, ecocriticism, autobiography, post-structuralism, and performance; and methodologies including the medical humanities, history of science, history of medieval women’s literary culture, digital humanities, literary criticism, oral history, the Global Middle Ages, archival discovery, and creative reimagining. Deliberately diverse, these encounters with the Book capture the necessary expanse that it demands. Topics include the intertextuality of the Book, particularly in Europe; Kempe’s position within a global context, both urban and rural; the historicity of her life and kin; the Book’s contested form as a ‘life’ textualised and memorialised; and its performative, collaborative mode.

Encounters are dynamic, but they always require negotiation and reciprocity. This volume examines how encountering Kempe and her Book is a multi-way process, and paves the way for future critical work.

The changing medieval canon

Bestsellers and masterpieces: the changing medieval canon addresses the strange fact that, in both European and Middle Eastern medieval studies, those texts that we now study and teach as the most canonical representations of their era were in fact not popular or even widely read in their day. On the other hand, those texts that were popular, as evidenced by the extant manuscript record, are taught and studied with far less frequency. The most dramatic demonstration of this disparity can be found in the surprising number of medieval texts now regarded as ‘masterpieces’ that have survived in but a single copy, an unicum manuscript. On the European side this list includes Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Book of Margery Kempe, the Oxford Song of Roland, Hildebrandslied and El Poema de mio Cid. On the Arabo-Mediterranean side examples include Ibn Hazm’s Ṭawq al-ḥamāma (The Neck-Ring of the Dove), Usāma ibn Munqidh’s Kitāb al-I‘tibār (Memoirs of Usama ibn Munqidh) and ‘Abd Allāh Ibn Buluggīn’s Kitab al-Tibyan (Autobiography of Ibn Buluggin), works that enjoy a canonical status in the study of Arabic literature comparable to that of the European examples cited above in the West. Bestsellers and masterpieces provides cross-cultural insight into both the literary tastes of the medieval period and the literary and political forces behind the creation of the ‘modern canon’ of medieval literature.


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.

Poetry, attention, and the mysteries of the body

This book explores, through medieval literature, modern poetry, and theologies both medieval and modern, the ways in which bodies, very much including literary bodies, may become apparent as more than they at first had seemed. Transfiguration, traditionally understood as the revelation of divinity in community, becomes for this book a figure for those splendours, mundane as much as divine, that wait within the read, lived, and loved world. The riddle of the body, which is to say the deep and superficial mystery of its pleasures and complications, invites a kind of patience, as medieval and modern languages reach toward, and break away from, something at their deepest centre and on their barest surface. By bringing together medieval sources with lyric medievalism, this book argues for the porousness of time and flesh. In this way, Augustine, Cassian, Bernard of Clairvaux, Dante, Boccaccio, and the heroes of Old French narrative, no more or less than their modern lyric counterparts, come to light in new and newly complicated ways. They become, in a word, transfigured.

Embodiment, materiality and performance

Medieval literary voices explores voice as both a textual remnant and an enlivening communicative presence within medieval texts. Its impressive line-up of essays deepens our understanding of medieval literature by revealing the many ways in which textual voices, far from simply being effects of literariness, are forceful presences that evoke the elusive voices lurking behind and beyond the literary text; they capture the absent authorial voice, the traces of scribal voices and the aural soundscape of the uttered text. The volume considers medieval literary voices across a broad range of texts, from the classical and biblical heritage to post-medieval literary representations. It explores multiple dimensions of medieval voice and vocalisations, also paying attention to the interactions between literary voices and their authorial, scribal and socio-political settings, particularly late medieval English literary production. It contends that, through seeking the voice of the absent or long-gone author, the literary voices contained within the text, and the imaginary and actual voices that shape medieval texts’ receptions, we can begin to understand the ways that medieval voices mediate or proclaim an embodied selfhood or material presence, how they dictate or contest moral conventions and how they create and sustain narrative soundscapes.

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The heat of Beowulf investigates twentieth-century poets Jack Spicer’s and Robin Blaser’s encounter with Beowulf in order to contextualize their poetics as a comparative horizon by which to understand the aesthetics of the Old English poem anew. The book examines Blaser’s and Spicer’s translations and study of the poem under philologist Arthur G. Brodeur within the context of their avant-garde literary world to generate a series of comparative critical frames for describing the non-representational functions of the aesthetics of Beowulf. After tracing the genealogies of mid-century critical practice and literary modernism that intersect in Blaser’s and Spicer’s engagement with Beowulf, the book examines Robin Blaser’s account of the ‘heat’ of Beowulf in Brodeur’s classroom as a formative moment within his poetics and articulates an approach to non-representational early medieval aesthetics that draws variously on the phenomenology of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Mary Carruthers’ accounts of medieval rhetoric, medieval sensology, disability studies, and translation theory. The book then argues that the multisensory and even synesthetic world of Beowulf requires a process of ecopoetical, phenomenological translation to become intelligible to vulnerable human corporeality. From here, the book reboots Brodeur’s interest in Beowulf’s aesthetics in a series of chapters on compound diction, variation, and narrative structure. Each of these chapters explores the capacity of the poem’s perceptual process to assist and to impair the human sensorium, offering an account of the activity of the poem as a multisensory phenomenological aesthetics—not conceived of as figure, but as non-representational activity and process.

Literary value – in the sense of the worth, usefulness or importance of the literary – has been a topic of debate from no later than Plato’s impugning of poetry. But from the so-called canon wars of the last century to the present, literary value has also become a perplexing source of distress. With its complicities thoroughly unmasked, it no longer axiomatically serves as literary study’s central justification. Yet no consensus alternative has taken its place. This book, unlike other approaches to the topic, neither pursues an apologetic thesis about the most defining values of literature nor conversely provides a demystifying account of the ideological uses of specific ascribed values. Instead, arguing that the category of literary value is ultimately inescapable, it focuses pragmatically on everyday scholarly and pedagogical activities, proposing how we may reconcile that category’s inevitability with our understandable wariness of its intractable uncertainties and complicities. Toward these ends, it offers a preliminary theory of literary valuing and explores the problem of literary value and possible responses in respect to the literary edition, canonicity and interpretation. Much of this exploration occurs within Chaucer studies, which, because of Chaucer’s simultaneous canonicity and marginality, provides fertile ground for thinking through the problem’s challenges. The book thereby also supplies an extended reflection on the state of Chaucer studies. In using this subfield as a kind of synecdoche for the field as a whole, the book seeks to forge a viable rationale for literary studies within and without the academy.

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Post-Reformation memory and the medieval romance

Difficult pasts combines book history, reception history and theories of cultural memory to explore how Reformation-era audiences used medieval literary texts to construct their own national and religious identities. It argues that the medieval romance book became a flexible site of memory for readers after the Protestant Reformation, allowing them to both connect with and distance themselves from the recent ‘difficult past’. Central characters in this study range from canonical authors like Geoffrey Chaucer and Edmund Spenser to less studied figures, such as printer William Copland, Elizabethan scribe Edward Banister and seventeenth-century poet and romance enthusiast, John Lane. In uniting a wide range of romance readers’ perspectives, Difficult pasts complicates clear ruptures between manuscript and print, Catholic and Protestant, or medieval and Renaissance. It concludes that the romance book offers a new way to understand the simultaneous change and continuity that defines post-Reformation England. Overall, Difficult pasts offers an interdisciplinary framework for better understanding the role of physical books and imaginative forms in grappling with the complexities of representing and engaging with the past.

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Old English remedies and medical texts

Hybrid creatures emerging from the pages of Old English medical texts readily capture the modern imagination. A powerful medicinal root in an Old English herbal is rendered with distinctly human arms and legs; a swarm charm inscribed in the margins of Bede’s Old English history addresses bees as Valkyrie-like beings; an entry in the compilation known as the Lacnunga identifies a wayside plant as both herb and mother. Yet the most powerful forms of hybridity in the Old English healing tradition are more subtle and pervasive: linguistic hybrids of Latin and vernacular, cultural hybrids fusing Christian liturgy and Germanic lore, and generic hybrids drawing simultaneously from an ambient oral tradition and an increasingly ubiquitous culture of writing. Hybrid healing seeks to meet such textual hybridity with a methodological hybridity of its own. Drawing from a range of fields including historical linguistics, classical rhetoric, archaeology, plant biology, folkloristics, and disability studies, a series of close readings examines selected Old English medical texts through individually tailored combinations of approaches designed to illustrate how the healing power of these remedies ultimately derives from unique convergences of widely disparate traditions and influences. This case-study model positions readers to appreciate more fully the various forces at work in any given remedy, replacing reductive assumptions that have often led early medieval medicine to be dismissed as mere superstition. By inviting readers to approach each text with appropriately diverse critical frameworks, the book opens a space to engage the medieval healing tradition with empathy, understanding, and imagination.