Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Looking Inward: Devotional Reading and the Private Self in Late Medieval England

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Looking Inward: Devotional Reading and the Private Self in Late Medieval England

Article excerpt

Jennifer Bryan, Looking Inward* Devotional Reading and the Private Self in Late Medieval England, The Middle Ages Series (Philadelphia, Pa: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008). ix + 270 pp. ISBN 978-0-8122-4048-1/0-8122-4048-0. $49-95.

Jennifer Bryan's Looking Inward is a considered account of the ways in which certain religious texts taught 'English readers in the period between 1350 and 1550 to "see themselves" and to reflect on what they saw, initially as a habit of reading and then as a habit of mind' (p. 3). In order to accomplish this not unambitious goal, Bryan has carefully, and with evident interest, examined a number of texts now read largely by scholars, A Prickynge of Love, The Chastising of God's Children, The Myroure of Oure Ladye, A Talkynge of the Love of God among them, and considered in what ways they may inform our reading of authors as familiar as Julian of Norwich and Thomas Hoccleve. Bryan writes of these texts easily, and treats them as found, with relatively little focus upon biblical and other sources, or upon the specific devotional traditions to which they responded. She usefully considers to what extent they are in dialogue with each other, though for a study concerned both with reading and with the habits of mind to which that reading gave rise, the discussion of intertextuality as such has only a limited role here.

In a close reading of the text, Bryan describes Julian of Norwich's Showings as 'evidence of her faith in the power of human reason to find meaning in objective experience ... [It] deploys what we might call the autobiographical or confessional mode of self-knowledge and self-understanding: a mode that values the individual life, constituted through and understanding itself in terms of its encounters with time' (pp. …

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