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13 Works 72 Membros 4 Críticas

About the Author

Susanna Fein is Professor of English at Kent State University.
Image credit: Susanna Fein [credit: Kent State University]

Obras por Susanna Fein


Conhecimento Comum

Nome legal
Fein, Susanna Greer
Data de nascimento
Harvard University
university professor
Kent State University



People are always trying to analyze an author based on his books. But have you ever tried to analyze an editor based on his books?

Robert Thornton was a Yorkshire gentleman in the early fifteenth century. He was not particularly high in the social order, but he was respectable, and he was literate, and he wanted his family to be both as well. And so he compiled and copied two books for his family, now known as the "Lincoln Thornton Manuscript" and the "London Thornton Manuscript." Into these he copied religious works, courtly romances, medical texts, and a few odds and ends. Given how carefully he assembled the texts and rearranged the books (far more carefully than he actually copied the texts, it appears), it seems clear that he had a plan in mind.

But what was that plan? And what was he trying to teach? What sources did he have access to? How did he arrange them, and to what extent did he excerpt, expand, rewrite, or just conform the dialect to his own? The romance portion of his collection is one of the most important collections of Middle English romances in existence, so it's important to know just how Thornton interacted with his sources.

This essay collection is the latest attempt to get inside Thornton's head. As is often the case in such a collection, it's a mixed bag. Susanna Fein's detailed examination of the contents of his books and George R. Keiser's assembly of the few facts we know about Thornton (further illustrated in Field and Smith's final section on "Robert Thornton Country") are excellent. Ralph Hanna and Thorlac Turville-Petre's article on the Alliterative Morte Arthure are a typical Hanna production: Extremely erudite, radical, dull, and (to me) ultimately unconvincing. Mary Michele Poellinger's item on religious violence probably tells us more about the Middle Ages than about Thornton himself. Ditto Julie Nelson Couch's essay about Apocryphal Romance, although it does show that Thornton didn't object to things that had no scriptural and little ecclesiastical justification. Julie Ormanski's classification of medical texts is perhaps important for understanding medical texts; I'm not sure it tells us much about Thornton. As for Joel Fredell's article about book production in York -- I'll admit that it completely failed to stick in my head. There is good stuff there for paleographers, I think, but not much for the general reader.

Ultimately, Robert Thornton still keeps most of his secrets -- and almost certainly always will, because there are probably no other records to be discovered and few new bits of data to be wrung from his two books. But if you want to know all there is to know about him, there is certainly much in this book that you should know.
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waltzmn | Oct 21, 2020 |
After six hundred years, it finally worked.

In 1417, Lord Lestrange was convicted of an assault upon another peer. One of those secondarily implicated was Lestrange's priest, John Awdley/Audelay. In 1426, Audelay, by now at least partially blind and deaf and seemingly sick, set out to redeem himself by writing a sort of manual of repentance. This manual now survives (with major defects, including an unknown but large number of pages at the beginning) as Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Douce 302.

For most of the next five hundred years, Audelay was all but forgotten. There is no indication that his amanuensis manuscript was ever copied, or that any of the pieces he wrote ever spread beyond its covers. But in the early twenty-first century, mostly due to the work of Susanna Fein, there has been an attempt to rehabilitate him. There has been a full (if slightly modernized) edition of his writings, Susanna Fein, John the Blind Audelay: Poems and Carols (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Douce 302), Medieval Institute Publications, 2009, and there was also published this book, dealing with issues about Audelay's life and writings. Collectively, they argue for the skill with which Audelay wrote his poetry and arranged his book and attempted to teach the way to a better life.

On the last two topics, I think the various authors have something of a point. Audelay did assemble his book with some skill (although he arguably ruined it by adding additional material at the end; possibly he lived longer than he expected and had afterthoughts). Audelay's exposition of how to live a good life was reasonably good theology by medieval Catholic standards.

But as a poet? There are a few good items in his collection, particularly among the carols; I genuinely like "Wolcom Yule":
Welcum, Yole, in good aray,
In worchip of the holeday!

Welcum be thou, Heven Kyng,
Welcum, iborn in hom mornyng
Welcum, to thee now wil we syng --
Welcum, Yole, forever and ay! [pp. 180-181 in the Fein edition]

That is,
Welcome, Yule, in good array,
In worship of the holiday.

Welcome be though, Heaven('s) King,
Welcome, born in one morning,
Welcome; to thee now will we sing --
Welcome, Yule, forever and ay!

But there is every reason to think that this is an existing carol that Audelay touched up a little; it is one of the few items in his book that occurs elsewhere -- in this case, in the wonderful anthology known as the Sloane Lyrics. Outside of the carols, he is not very original and not very easy to read. Despite all the attempts in this book to convince us that Audelay was worth studying, I suspect his works will remain confined in specialist anthologies. Which is still a better memorial than most people of his era have.
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waltzmn | Oct 11, 2020 |
This is book of small things about a big book of big things.

The big book is the Auchinleck Manuscript, perhaps the greatest treasure of the National Library of Scotland. It is large manuscript almost certainly copied in the first half of the fourteenth century, and it is the largest single source of verse romances in Middle English. Since these romances are the best things produced in Middle English prior to the time of Chaucer, Auchinleck has naturally gotten a great deal of scholarly attention (as well as multiple facsimile editions).

How much attention? In 2008, an entire conference was called together to discuss the manuscript. The essays in this volume were the result. Scholars who participated include some very, very big names in Middle English literature; if I had been editor Susanna Fein, I might have felt more than a little intimidated in dealing with such a formidable list. But she did her part well -- and in a very even-handed way; there are not a few instances where the authors directly contradict each others' conclusions. Very little that you will learn in this book can be regarded as settled.

Be warned, though, if you are just hoping to get an introduction to Auchinleck, you will likely find this book very fiddly indeed. (Which is unfortunate, since it's relatively affordable and the facsimiles of Auchinleck flatly aren't.) E.g., you'll find an essay by Timothy A. Shonk about the paraphs in the manuscript -- paraphs being the symbol used to mark paragraphs or sense breaks, the equivalent of our ¶ mark. There are several essays that discuss whether the contents are supposed to encourage or discourage knowledge of the French language (which, at the time Auchinleck was written, was still the language of the royal court, and of many of the nobles, but the gentry and the people increasingly spoke English). A discussion of whether some of the pieces are actually complete. And other fine details. Some of these examinations of the book will, I suspect, eventually lead to greater discoveries. By themselves, they mostly show the authors' ability to pay attention to fine detail. Because few of them are actually about the contents of Auchinleck; they are mostly devoted to the way it was copied, and the purpose.

And then there is a surprisingly hostile argument about whether two particular parts of the book were written by the same scribe or by different scribes, and indeed whether the second scribe ever existed. Both sides have strong arguments; I don't know the answer, but I know I wouldn't feel as sure as the authors here do.

At least the authors all agree that Auchinleck is a Very Big Deal. You'll probably agree, too, if you ever get to study it.
… (mais)
2 vote
waltzmn | Oct 8, 2018 |
ME_Dictionary | Mar 20, 2020 |

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