Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Fatherhood and Its Representations in Middle English Texts

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Fatherhood and Its Representations in Middle English Texts

Article excerpt

Rachel E. Moss, Fatherhood and its Representations in Middle English Texts (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer; Rochester, NY: Boydell and Brewer, 2013). ix + 224 pp. ISBN 978-1-84384-358-0. £60.00.

Rachel Moss offers a study of fatherhood focused on the 'texts of gentry and mercantile society in late medieval England' (p. 8), though readers may be surprised to find that Moss focuses on relationships between fathers and their adult children (especially sons), beginning with adolescence. Moss uses two main types of sources: letter collections of five fifteenth-century families (the Pastons, the Celys, the Plump tons, the Stonors, and the Armburghs), and a selection of Middle English popular romances (chosen for their content related to fatherhood). Moss justifies combining these sources because the romances were consumed by the same social class as the writers of the letters, and because, since letters, too, can be read as constructed narratives, both are instruments for the self-conscious shaping of identity.

After placing the sources in their historical context in chapter 1, Moss's second chapter argues that fathering heirs was a crucial aspect of leaving adolescence and becoming a man - so much so that in the romances, 'infertility is a result of adolescence' - characters who behave immaturely are denied children (p. 60). Chapter 3 examines the relationships between fathers and their adult sons, who struggled to establish independence from their fathers' authority. Nonetheless, although the salutations of the letters routinely use the imagery of service, these relationships were marked by mutual obligations and were not merely authoritarian. Chapter 4, on fathers and daughters, is simultaneously the most vexing and the most rewarding. Since there are simply no letters from daughters to their fathers, Moss begins with the chilling issue of incest in the romances. However, Moss shows that the incest motif was an expression of the need for fathers to act unselfishly in arranging for the future of their families. …

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