Catherine Croizy-Naquet, Laurence Harf-Lancner, and Michelle Szkilnik, eds. Les Manuscrits medievaux, temoins de lectures.
As its title suggests, this collection of essays asks what manuscript evidence can tell us about how medieval texts were read. Whether in annotations commemorating an individual act of reading or in conventions of illumination, formatting and glossing seen across large manuscript corpora, medieval manuscript books frequently bear signs of readers' engagement with the texts they contain, beginning with the scribes and artists responsible for giving form to the texts they read and reproduce. While many of the essays are narrowly focused in their subject matter, the collection as a whole contributes in important ways to manuscript studies by applying detailed codicological research to larger questions of authorship and readership, building upon several decades of work in reader response criticism and material philology, taking special inspiration from scholars such as Sylvia Huot, whose important work on Romance of the Rose manuscripts is held up as a model in Michelle Szkilnik's preface and cited by at least two other authors in the collection.
Defining their corpus as manuscripts in French and Latin from the ninth to fifteenth centuries, the eleven essays contained in the collection, along with a preface by Michelle Szkilnik, offer a range of approaches to the question based on different kinds of manuscript evidence, including library records, interventions and annotations by translators, scribes and other readers, authors' reflections on their own readings as well as those of their imagined or ideal readers, and the readings performed visually by artists. The book is divided into four sections, organized into four spaces or contexts in which reading occurs: Le lecteur dans sa bibliotheque (The Reader in his Library), Le lecteur dans le scriptorium (The Reader in the Scriptorium), Le lecteur dans le cabinet de l'auteur (The Reader in the Author's Study), Le lecteur dans l'atelier de l'enlumineur (The Reader in the Illuminator's Workshop).
The first section, Le lecteur dans sa bibliotheque, is comprised of two chapters, each of which uses codicological and other documentary evidence to assess the social or political function of a particular kind of library and the ways in which readers may have used and interacted with books in libraries. The first chapter, by Gilbert Fournier, is titled "Lecteurs etrangers et lectures etrangeres au college de Sorbonne au XVesiecle" ("Foreign Readers and Foreign Readings at Sorbonne College in the Fifteenth Century"). Fournier first outlines borrowing practices at the Sorbonne, which allowed community members not affiliated with the Sorbonne to take out books as long as a fellow (boursier) at the college accompanied them and vouched for them. Fournier makes a convincing case for the borrowing habits of Parliament member Simon de Plumetot (1371-1443), whose personal library, he argues, contained an unmistakable copy (Paris, BnF MS lat. 14644) of a miscellany in the Sorbonne's collection (Paris, BnF MS lat. 15690). Based on the contents of the collection, especially some treatises by Richard Fitzralph, Fournier speculates about how these readings might have informed political debates of the period even as English influence was expressly repudiated. The chapter makes notable contributions to our understanding of medieval lending libraries as well as to larger debates surrounding the impact of texts and readings on the political reality of fifteenth-century France. In the second chapter of the section, author Marie-Helene Tesniere of the Bibliotheque nationale de France asks a simple question as expressed in her title: "Les manuscrits de la Librairie de Charles V ont-ils ete lus ? L'enseignement des tables" ("Were the Manuscripts of Charles V's Library Read? What the Tables of Contents can Teach Us"). In a word, yes, at least for the selection of manuscripts Tesniere has chosen to analyse, most of them anthologies of works considered appropriate to the education of princes. Based on some manuscript tables of contents that include contemporary foliation indicating where each text or chapter begins, as well as, in one case, a contemporary reader's corrections to that table, Tesniere argues that the manuscripts were designed for study and individual consultation of works and that they were indeed used in such a fashion. She goes on to suggest that Charles V's common habit of acquiring two copies of many texts might be an attempt to cover both public and private reading needs. Tesniere's modest claim that many of Charles V's manuscripts were designed for and used in private study is convincingly demonstrated. Meanwhile, her speculation about Charles's library consistently owning two copies of texts, one for private study and one for public recitation, would need significantly more evidence to prove. That being said, it is a theory that deserves consideration and raises worthwhile questions about the different ways in which the king's library might have been used, for different purposes by different readers.
The second section, Le lecteur dans le scriptorium, contains three chapters that deal in various ways with professional readers involved in shaping the transmission of texts, including translators, scribes, and commentators. Richard Trachsler's chapter, "Du libellus Merlini au livret Merlin. Les traductions frangaises des Prophetiae Merlini dans leurs manuscrits" ("From the Libellus Merlini to the Livret Merlin. French Translations of the Prophetia Merlini in their Manuscripts") investigates how each of these actors (translators, scribes, commentators) responded to the challenge of translating Merlin's prophecies in Geoffrey of Monmouth's history into French. Faced with both the text's obscurity and its politically fraught vindication of the Bretons, translators employed various strategies of non-translation, avoiding responsibility, as Trachsler skillfully argues, by refusing to interpret, either by omitting the passage, relaying it in Latin, or producing a translation that closely mimics its Latin source's lexicon and syntax, without commentary. Trachsler then turns to manuscripts in both Latin and French that add commentary, while generally avoiding controversial territory by halting their commentary at either 1135, the original's date of composition, or the commentator's own period, sometimes applying prophecies to more recent events and figures. The next chapter, by Maximilian Diesenberger, titled "Le manuscrit Bayerische Staatsbibliothek CLM 4554, temoin de lectures" ("Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Manuscript CLM 4554, Witness of Readings"), examines a compilation of Latin hagiographical works copied from multiple sources and completed over several stages in the eighth and ninth centuries at the monastery of Benediktbeuern. Diesenberger's chapter recounts how historical events around 788--primarily among them the rise of Charlemagne and accompanying political changes in the region--interrupted the manuscript's original, more ambitious plan to include 90 narratives, such that when a later group of scribes resumed collecting and copying the saints' lives listed in the table of contents, they maintained the titles and chapter numbers from the opening table, but copied works selectively, with greater attention to female virgin martyrs in keeping with Frankish fashion of the time. In a third stage, he sees another shift in priorities as two narratives about the local Saint Afra were added even though they were not originally slated for inclusion. Finally, David Ganz's chapter, "Un carolingien anonyme sur des vers de Virgile" ("An Anonymous Carolingian on Some of Virgil's Verses"), recalls the importance of the Carolingian period in transmitting Latin texts from antiquity, especially Virgil, whose texts and commentaries were indispensable to medieval learning. Ganz surveys some glossed manuscripts of Virgil's works, ending with transcriptions from one of those manuscripts, Valenciennes BM 407.
The four chapters grouped under the next heading, Le lecteur dans le cabinet de l'auteur, look at how manuscript evidence can shed light on medieval notions of the relationship between authors and readers. Milena MikhailovaMakarius opens the section with a study of emerging conceptions of the author figure in the late thirteenth century in her essay "Cil qui fist ...: l'auteur presente a ses lecteurs. Les manuscrits d'auteur de la seconde moitie du XIIIC siecle" ("He who made ... : the Author Presented to his Readers. Author Manuscripts from the Second Half of the Thirteenth Century"). Looking at individual manuscript collections of works by Philippe de Novare, Marie de France, Robert de Blois, Adam de la Halle, and Rutebeuf, Mikhailova-Makarius observes a striking pattern in the way in which compilers present these authors and their oeuvres; in each case, the author's life and progression of works are made to mirror the exemplary narrative structure of the saint's life, evolving in their subject matter from youthful love to worldly affairs to divine contemplation. Clotilde Dauphant follows similar questions into the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in her chapter, "Qui vouldra de mes choses sgavoir: lire Machaut, Froissart et Deschamps dans leurs oeuvres completes" (" Whoever wants to know about my things-. Reading Machaut, Froissart, and Deschamps in their Complete Works"). Focusing on manuscripts of these three authors' works that explicitly present themselves as representing the author's entire corpus (or a significant, self-contained portion thereof), Dauphant's chapter highlights the diverse author portraits that emerge--even among different manuscripts of the same author's works--based on compilers' paratextual framing of the texts, illustrations, and even mise-en-page. Sylvie Lefevre, in her chapter, "Lorsque l'auteur se relit? Antoine de la Sale et son Jean de Saintre" ("When the Author Rereads Himself? Antoine de la Sale and his Jean de Saintre"), considers related questions that arise when it is the author who intervenes to reconceptualize the form his or her work takes. Without definitively identifying the hand ("Fa") that emends manuscript F with Antoine de la Sale, Lefevre leans toward this hypothesis. She argues that subtle changes in format, content, and chapter divisions and rubrics work together to redefine its genre, thus altering the work's relationship to the collection in which it appears and shaping its reception. The masterful final chapter in this section is "De la lecture a la performance: le 'Livre d'Amis' de Charles d'Orleans" ("From Reading to Performance: Charles d'Orleans's 'Book of Friends'") by Virginie Minet-Mahy et Jean-Claude Miihlethaler. The authors examine signs of reading in the autograph manuscript and their social function, from scripted public performance to constructed social scenes to reflective reading and intertextual dialogue among the poets involved.
Finally, the last section, Le lecteur dans l'atelier de l'enlumineur, includes two short chapters that look for signs of readings in the relationship between text and image. The first, "Conservatisme et innovation dans les manuscrits du Roman de la Violette de Gerbert de Montereuii" ("Conservatism and Innovation in the Manuscripts of Gerbert de Montereuil's Romance of the Violet") by Marina Tramet, compares manuscripts of the work and of its later prose adaptation. Her analysis highlights ways in which manuscripts' choices of scenes to illustrate as well as textual interpolations flatten the romance's ambiguities and critiques of courtly values by emphasizing parts of the narrative that lend themselves to a simpler, moralizing lesson or reshape it to the familiar mold of a chivalric Bildungsroman. The final chapter is by Florence Bouchet, "Le lecteur du Roman de la Rose, entre apprentissage et polemique: texte et image dans l'incunable Paris 114 de la Bibliotheque municipale de Toulouse" ("The Reader of the Romance of the Rose, Between Learning and Polemics: Text and Image in Inclinable Paris 114 at the Municipal Library of Toulouse"). Bouchet considers multiple readings over time whose traces can be seen in the Paris 114 incunable via rubrics, woodcuts and at least one reader's annotations. Her strong analysis is well placed as the final chapter, in that it includes many of the categories of readers and readings previously discussed: authors (Jean de Meun as reader of Guillaume de Lorris, and the book's way of framing of that authorial relationship); copyists (a scribe or printer's use of rubrics and interpolations to orient the reader toward an interpretation that vindicates and tames Jean de Meun's work drawing upon arguments from the Debate); artists and bookmakers, who create/select a visual program that foregrounds moral readings and complements Jean's use of sexually suggestive euphemism; and finally a reader of the finished book, whose marking of favorite passages demonstrates a selective reading of the kind Christine de Pizan warned about, embracing the work's most misogynistic statements at face value, without regard for their context or the credibility of the character speaking.
Four of the chapters include manuscript images, in the body of the text or at the end of the chapter. The plates are, without exception, very useful in supporting the authors' arguments and helping the reader follow them. Some of the chapters that lacked images would have benefitted from including them, especially Marina Tramet's piece ("Conservatisme et innovation"), which depends heavily on art-historical analyses of miniatures from several manuscripts. The book also includes a bibliography for the full collection, divided into primary and secondary sources, and an index of important names and texts. At 28.50 [euro], the paperback edition is fairly priced for adoption as a textbook or for individual purchase.
While each of the essays in the collection takes a fairly narrow focus in its immediate subject matter, the collection as a whole coheres well as a set of case studies that tells a rich narrative about reading in the French-speaking medieval world from several key perspectives over a span of six centuries. The chosen examples do skew toward the late Middle Ages, not surprisingly given the expanding vernacular literate and literary cultures and the disproportionate numbers of manuscripts that survive from later centuries. The chapters are uneven in their potential reach and impact beyond a specialized audience, but each makes a significant contribution to its own subfield. I could envision the collection as a whole serving as a valuable anthology for graduate students in medieval French literature, providing fairly comprehensive background about medieval cultures of reading as well as modeling ways to use manuscript evidence to generate and answer important critical questions. It is also a worthy read for anyone working on medieval manuscripts and their readers, or on any of the particular manuscripts, texts, and topics addressed in its chapters. (JEANETTE PATTERSON, Binghamton University)
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|Publication:||The Romanic Review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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