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Le Livre de Jehan de Mandeville. Une 'Geographie' au XIVe siecle.

Publications de l'Institut d'Etudes Medievales: Textes, Etudes, Congres, 8 (Louvain-la-Neuve: Universite Catholique de Louvain, 1988). lix + 511 pp. F. fr. 380.

The present study is a most valuable complement to J. W. Bennett's The Rediscovery of Sir John Mandeville (New York, 1954), the focus of which was primarily biographical and bibliographical; complement, because Bennett remains indispensable for, for instance, detailed descriptions of the manuscripts. The present study opens with an overview of the authorship problem, but with no new evidence the writer's conclusions are wisely conservative. Christiane Deluz indeed is interested less in the author than in the text: its source, its reception and, crucially, its function. For Deluz, it is important that Mandeville's Travels be seen not as a travelogue (and therefore as fantasy), but rather as an imago mundi, a description of the world, drawing extensively on the widest variety of sources. Thus a prerequisite is the identification of sources, and Deluz provides both a repertory of sources (in a synoptic table, pp. 429-92, which furnishes an extremely useful instrument de travail), and an assessment of Mandeville's procedures; this is a valuable first step, but a fuller study, rhetorical and pragmatic, of his compilation and translation techniques might well be very rewarding. Part II sets Mandeville's Travels in their intellectual context: a curiosity about the natural and especially the human world, fed by a sense of expanding horizons (the opening-up of Europe, the pioneer journeys of the early missionaries), and then offers a useful repertory of the geographical vocabulary at his disposal, supplemented by more remarkable synoptic tables (pp. 383-98), comparing his lexis to those of comparable contemporaries like Marco Polo. A third section concentrates on the image of the world as promulgated by Mandeville, his conceptual Mappemonde; here, the non-specialist might have found it useful to have some maps other than Brunetto Latini's (the Hereford Mappemonde, for instance, cited p. 189) with which to compare Mandeville's (pp. 400-1). Mandeville's larger world is one in which distance allows an objective and often critical view of the follies of his own. A final section focuses on reception: the astonishing popularity of the Travels (250 manuscripts), its wide diffusion geographical and social, the prestige which it enjoyed, and the evidence of reception furnished by marginal notations and illustrations. (A mild regret: that there are so very few illustrations provided. Again, a full study based on other invaluable synoptic tables (pp. 422-7) would surely be fruitful.)

This work is the fruit of herculean labours, and its main thesis, that the oddly and unjustly neglected Jehan de Mandeville should take his deserved place as a |scientist' in histories of French literature, is convincingly argued. Has the time not come, in the context of a burgeoning interest in travel narratives, for a new edition of the text to replace M. Letts's unobtainable Hakluyt Society version (London, 1953)?
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Author:Taylor, Jane H.M.
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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