Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Chaucer's Open Book: Resistance to Closure in Medieval Discourse

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Chaucer's Open Book: Resistance to Closure in Medieval Discourse

Article excerpt

Rosemarie P. McGerr, Chaucer's Oen Books Resistance to Closure in Medieval Discourse (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999). x + 210 pp. ISBN 0- 8130-1572- 3. $49.95.

With Chamcer's Open Books, Rosemarie McGerr politely but firmly challenges the theorists of ending - Frank Kermode, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Umberto Eco-who locate the invention of open fiction in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her goal is not to disparage their criticism, but to resist the parochialism of their arguments by demonstrating a tradition of open fictions in medieval literatures from the twelfth century. A book aimed at Chaucerians cannot, of itself, shift entrenched attitudes toward medieval literature, held by those who do not know this literature and its most sophisticated recent critics. But most professors of English have at least some experience of Chaucer's work and so some capacity to appreciate her arguments, should they encounter them. Medievalists might encourage such encounters.

That McGerr relies on medieval rhetorical theory to make her case for medieval open fictions not only effectively supports her primary case, but should attract contemporary theorists of rhetoric to her work. After an introduction situating her work in the critical discourse of open fictions, McGerr establishes a medieval tradition of open fictions, weaving into her analysis what medieval rhetorics tell us about structure and conclusion, how they use end ambiguously, as we do, to mean formal conclusion or thematic conclusion. Open fictions often display formal and/or narrative circularity, a virtual necessity in a genre like the dream-vision, which seems to invite subversion of closure. …

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