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The Middle Ages in the Modern World: Twenty-First Century Perspectives.

Bildhauer, Bettina, and Chris Jones, The Middle Ages in the Modern World: Twenty-First Century Perspectives (Proceedings of the British Academy, 208), Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2017; hardback; pp. xx, 346; 21 b/w, 16 colour illustrations; R.R.P. US$135.00, [pounds sterling]85.00; ISBN 9780197266144.

The Middle Ages in the Modern World: Twenty-First Century Perspectives offers a fascinating array of international and multidisciplinary reflections on medievalism. The introduction by Bettina Bildhauer and Chris Jones presents a broad history of the continuing evolution of the idea of 'the Middle Ages' from the fourteenth century to the present day. The collection is then divided into three themed sections, with various genres and areas, such as film, literature, politics, and Byzantinism, discussed across all the sections. One of the major strengths of this wide-ranging collection is its diversity of voices and of subject matter, with topics ranging from how Old Norse sagas are used as evidence by climate change deniers, to the way that Lady Gaga employs medieval iconography in her music videos.

Part I of the collection looks at medievalism in politics and histories. Bruce Holsinger's chapter traces the origin of the idea of the 'medieval Warm Period' to a naive reading of Landnamabok, highlighting the afterlife of the idea of the 'Warm Period' in political discourse regarding climate change in order to argue for a more engaged relationship between natural sciences and the humanities. Eamon Byers, Stephen Kelly, and Kath Stevenson examine the connection between cultural nationalism and the figures of Cu Chulainn and Saint Patrick in their chapter, showing how these figures were used to give legitimacy to political affiliations during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Patrick Geary argues that nineteenth-century scholars such as Alexandre Herculano, Jules Michelet, and Felix Dahn served as proto-celebrities, whose writings reflect a time when medieval origin myths were used to bolster European nations. Andrew Lynch's chapter analyses the attitudes towards and representation of the Middle Ages in a selection of children's histories from the eighteenth and nineteenth century, arguing that these works often feature the beginning of the British nation, war, and religion as 'the chief signifiers of the Middle Ages' (p. 90).

Part II of the collection looks at practising medievalism. Celebrated German author Felicitas Hoppe reflects on her experience in adapting Hartmann von Aue's verse romance Iwein into the young-adult novel genre, highlighting the importance of female characters Laudine and Lunette, both in von Aue's original and in her adaptation. Museum curator James Robinson's chapter draws on his experience of curating the Treasures of Heaven exhibition at the British Museum to outline the parallels between the medieval cult of saints and contemporary celebrity culture. Composer and musician Graham Coatman's chapter analyses the way that medieval music is used by British composers such as Benjamin Britten, Peter Maxwell Davies, and Judith Weir, arguing for their role as examples of a broader trend of medievalism in twentieth- and twenty-first-century avant-garde music. Archivist Fani Gargova demonstrates that 'the political dimension of medievalism [...] can only be understood through an investigation of archival material' (p. 152), examining previously unknown photographs that prove the sustained contact of three early twentieth-century Byzantine scholars. Chris Jones's chapter provides a rich overview of medievalism in recent British and Irish poetry, highlighting the renewed turn to the medieval in contemporary verse, and offering insightful reflections of his own involvement with two projects: the translation of Seamus Heaney's versions of Robert Henryson's Fables into a digital app; and the creation of poetic riddles capable of being published on Twitter. The joint chapter between Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri and Lila Yawn focuses on the medieval revival festival Calendimaggio held in Assisi, and Pasolini's left-wing medievalist Trilogy of Life, and provides insight not only into the nostalgia for, and a selective re-evocation of, the medieval past, but also the importance of medievalism in Italian culture and politics.

Part III of the collection centres on medievalism in literature and culture. Elizabeth Roberton shows how William Wordsworth was deeply influenced by Geoffrey Chaucer, demonstrating that Wordsworth must have been familiar with Chaucer's meditations on a daisy in his Prologue to the Legend of Good Women. Conor McCarthy's chapter examines translations by Ciaran Carson of two medieval texts, Dante's Inferno and the Irish epic Tain Bo Cuailnge, analysing Carson's use of language and its relation to time, in particular its reflection of the political climate of the Troubles. Bettina Bildhauer persuasively argues for Quentin Tarantino's film Inglorious Basterds as an adaptation of the medieval epic poem Song of the Nibelungs, concluding that through this medieval intertext, the film both participates in, and adapts, the association between the medieval and violence in contemporary culture. Carolyn Dinshaw's chapter examines the Green Man, a decorative motif that features the representation of a face surrounded by, or made from, leaves, showing how the human/non-human hybrid resonates as a symbol for queer world-making in twentieth- and twenty-first-century contexts. Roland Betancourt delves into Byzantinism in Anglo-American culture, arguing that Byzantinism is used to 'produce pockets of resistance and momentary states of emancipation' (p. 338).

The Middle Ages in the Modern World is complemented with numerous images and tables, in both black and white and colour. This marvellous collection will appeal to those with an interest in the Middle Ages, as well as anyone interested in medievalism and its proliferation in popular culture and history.

MARINA GERZIC, The University of Western Australia
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Author:Gerzic, Marina
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2018
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