Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Textual Situations: Three Medieval Manuscripts and Their Readers

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Textual Situations: Three Medieval Manuscripts and Their Readers

Article excerpt

Andrew Taylor, Textual Situations: Three Medieval Manuscripts and their Readers (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002). 300 pp. ISBN 0-8122-3642-4. $55.00/L38.50.

This book examines three manuscripts produced in England in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in different monastic environments: Bodleian Library, MS Digby 23 (the Chanson de Roland], British Library, MS Harley 978 (a variegated collection of texts), and BL, MS Royal 10.E.4 (the Smithfield Decretals). What Andrew Taylor appears to be attempting is to recover such evidence as there is of these manuscripts' earliest readers and their forms of engagement with their texts. This is not a foolish approach and Taylor has qualities that make one wish it were more successful than it is. He writes well and has clearly devoted much effort to providing contexts for thinking usefully about these manuscripts, effort that has involved him ranging widely and familiarizing himself with fields often rather distant from those with which a professor of English might be expected to have acquaintance. Above all, there is throughout a quality of alert curiosity that makes him sensitive to the detail and anxious to contextualize it fruitfully.

But for all these admirable elements I do not find this ultimately a successful or even very convincing book. In part my difficulties lie in the lack of any obvious rationale that could fruitfully link these manuscripts. As it is, this book never gets beyond its particularities to any convincing larger conclusions. The manuscripts become pegs on which are hung various observations which turn into a form of loosely associative commentary on aspects of the world of medieval England, interspersed with reconstructions, sometimes highly speculative, of the lives of the early owners. …

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