Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Language and Imagination in the Gawain-Poems

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Language and Imagination in the Gawain-Poems

Article excerpt

J. J. Anderson, Language and Imagination in the Garwain-Poems (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005). viii + 247 pp. ISBN 0-7190-7102-X. £15.99.

J. J. Anderson's sober, precise accounts of the four well-known poems found in MS Cotton Nero A.x.Art.3 form the first of a welcome new series, Manchester Medieval Literature, which makes jargon-free readability a priority and aims to appeal to the difficult trio of specialist, student, and general reader. Anderson consequendy avoids the wilder reaches of modern Gawain-poet criticism - no cultural materialism, Ricardian economics, gender politics, metrical abstraction, computerized vocabulary analysis, or whatever - and does not engage in a review of modern interpretations of the works, but, at the risk of appearing old-fashioned to some specialists, simply asks 'the reader to look afresh at the texts, considered as poems without contexts' (p. 1), with 'little interest in contemporary events and in everyday life' (p. 3). The introduction is followed by four chapters devoted to each of the four poems in turn and a brief afterword. The nearest Anderson comes to sounding like a literary theorist is to take Bakhtinian dialogism as the key to the poet's imagination and to develop a distinction between the mono-voiced Cleanness, described as a poem without irony or ambiguity and therefore 'hard on its readers' (p. 89), and the multiple discourses, which offer more freedom to the reader, in Pearl, Patience, and Sir Gaivain. Fair enough, one might say, but Anderson undervalues the pictorialism of imagination which makes Cleanness the most highly coloured and dramatic of the four.

The author sounds happiest with Patience, 'small-scale, personal, moderate in tone' and 'reader-friendly and engaging" (p. 116), and in sections devoted variously to the narrator, Jonah, and God neatly traces the interplay of their senses of penance. …

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