This study brings emergent methodologies of literary geography to bear upon the unique contents—or more to the point, the moving, artful, frequently audacious contents—of a codex known as London, British Library MS Harley 2253. The Harley manuscript was produced in provincial Herefordshire, in England’s Welsh Marches, by a scribe whose literary generation was wiped out in the Black Death of 1348–1351. It contains a diverse set of writings: love-lyrics and devotional texts, political songs and fabliaux, saints’ lives, courtesy literature, bible narratives, travelogues, and more. These works alternate between languages (Middle English, Anglo-Norman, and Latin), but have been placed in mutually illuminating conversation. Following an Introduction that explores how this fragmentary miscellany keeps being sutured into ‘whole’-ness by commentary upon it, individual chapters examine different genres, topics, and social groupings. Readers from literary history, medieval studies, cultural geography, gender studies, Jewish studies, book history, and more, will profit from the encounter. Harley 2253 is famous as medieval books go, thanks to its celebrated roster of lyrics, fabliaux, and political songs, and owing to the scarcity of material extant from this ‘in-between’ period in insular literary history. England’s post-Conquest/pre-plague era remains dimly known. Despite such potential, there has never been a monograph published on Harley 2253. Harley Manuscript Geographies orients readers to this compelling material by describing the phenomenon of the medieval miscellany in textual and codicological terms. But another task it performs is to lay out grounds for approaching this compilation via the interpretive lens that cultural geography provides.
of ‘literarygeography’ helps reveal the dynamics by which literary history, codicological form, and cultural geography intertwine. Recent work across a number of disciplines has established that the concept of space plays a key role in determining social relations. Edward Soja, a political geographer and urban theorist whose work treats contemporary Los Angeles, has emphasized the benefits of observing ‘human beings making their own geographies, and being constrained by what they have made’. 5 Despite the distance between urban studies and literary medievalism
in the first half of the fourteenth century but extended over time, this chapter, like each of those following, offers a Harley manuscript case study in the intersection of geography and literature, or what my Introduction termed ‘literarygeography’. Patterns of medieval mobility—human, textual, and imaginative—will be shown, in their interlocked dynamics, to offer new perspectives on the geographical assumptions (what is ‘cosmopolitan’? what is ‘provincial’?) that have helped drive modern assessments of premodern poetic achievement. This assertion contains a
Ye goon to … Hereford? Regional devotion and England’s other St Thomas
Wistan of Wistanstow (#116, fol. 140v). Genres tend to clump together in period miscellanies, but these texts stand apart from one another in the Harley manuscript—perhaps because they serve a structural role: as bookend-frames, or textual-architectural pillars for the collection. It is central to the literarygeography of Harley 2253 that these are Diocese of Hereford vitae , and that they appear at the outset and (two) conclusion(s) of its codicological project.
England’s other St Thomas
Thomas Becket would seem to have little competition in his role as
, ‘Species of Spaces’, Georges Perec offers a system for classifying the relationship between space, writing, and the imagination. Perec’s own prose, which is sensitive to the practices of geography and the mutability of worldly experience, seeks to find a series of expressions for the provisional quality implicit in textual and spatial encounters. In the epigraph quoted above, he describes the capacity of the written word to retain something of the world: a process that can be recognised in the various literarygeographies of Edmund Spenser’s work. 3 It has long been
the potential for flux.
It has been beyond the scope of this study to address the literarygeographies of Irish writings in any depth, even though the place-making strategies of dindshenchas offer a practice of binding place, name, and memory in ways that both anchor and orientate; I mention the tradition here to evoke the gulf between the Edmund Spenser who lived and worked in Ireland and the utopian Spenser, capable of being at home within Irish literary customs, imagined by the Anglo-Irish poet Yeats. 4 Although my key intertexts
trends in academic study have enhanced greatly our understanding of both
the provincial gentry and regional culture. Historians have headed into
the provinces to provide a number of studies of the regional gentry.
From the literary side, there has been a growing interest in manuscripts
and their provenance, especially in relation to placing literature
within context, and attempts at mapping literarygeographies. 11 This research
’, Callaloo 33:2 (2010): pp. 498–520, at p. 500.
13 Michiko Kakutani, ‘Travails of an Outcast’ (4 September 2007).
14 Maria del Pilar Blanco, ‘Reading the Novum World: The LiteraryGeography of Science Fiction in Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life
of Oscar Wao’, in Surveying the American Tropics: A LiteraryGeography
from New York to Rio, ed. Maria Cristina Fumigalli, Peter Hulme, Owen
Robinson, and Leslie Wylie (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press,
2013), pp. 49–74, at p. 50.
miscellany, and what scholars deem worthy of investigation, is not always the same.
In addition to registering absence and presence, preceding chapters have foregrounded questions of mobility—human, artefactual, imaginative—in seeking to ascertain the workings of literarygeography within and with respect to Harley 2253. The professional itinerancy of Chapter 1 ’s Hereford clerics has sobering contrast in the legal restrictions placed upon the movements of Chapter 2 ’s Herefordshire Jews, even prior to their 1290 expulsion. Chapter 1 ’s Middle English love-lyrics and
regionality and that larger amalgam of English political/devotional identity with which it interfaces. But Chapter 2 will also interrogate the ‘textual mappings’ we have so far encountered, in order to account for—and take literary-geographical stock of—the traumatic expulsion of 1290. Those whom King Edward and Bishop Swinfield expel as threats to Christian community, produce in others—who dwelt in closer congress with Anglo-Jews—responses to difference that are, if not benign, at least less uniformly intolerant.
A generation after the forced departure of Herefordshire