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The Middle English 'Weye of Paradys' and the Middle French 'Voie de Paradis': A Parallel-Text Edition.

Ed. F. N. M. Diekstra, Medieval and Renaissance Texts, 1 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1991). xvi + 544 pp.; 5 figures. ISBN 90-04-09118-1. Du. gu. 200.

It is hard to imagine an edition more thorough than F. N. M. Diekstra's of the Middle French Voie de Paradis and its Middle English translation, the Weye of Paradis. Like the allegories it presents, Diekstra's edition has three, carefully subdivided parts: an introduction covering manuscripts, editorial principles, devotional and literary backgrounds', language, and |structural outline'; the texts themselves, in facing-page format; and a concluding section which presents textual notes and variants, commentary, a good glossary to the Old French, an exhaustive bibliography, four appendices (a table of contents of the Tractatus de Tribus Dietis, the source of La Voie de Paradis; an extract of the source for the Tractatus, Robert de Sorbon's De Tribus Dietis; an extract from the Tractatus itself; an "[e]xtract from La Traitiet de .iij. Journees, an anonymous fifteenth-century translation of the Tractatus de Tribus Dietis, a parallel to VP but independent of it); an index to the introduction and commentary, and an index to biblical and apocryphal quotations. Both the Voie de Paradis and the Weye of Paradys treat of the three stages of penance -- contrition, confession and satisfaction -- likening them to three stages of a pilgrimage. Diekstra's edition, similarly, moves through three distinct stages: a rubbing or grinding together of the bare facts of the texts, their history and their phonology; a frank acknowledgement of the import of those facts, in the edited texts at hand; and a payment of the debt incurred by the editor in undertaking the act of editing, in explanatory notes, glosses, and references useful to others.

If this seems like an arch way of describing the process of reading Diekstra's edition as penitential, that's not a criticism. Diekstra explains in his introduction that, whereas the French Voie de Paradis was evidently produced for confessors, the Middle English Weye of Paradys was probably written for sinful layfolk, to encourage independent self-examination. No one will come away from this book as they do, say, from Kane--Donaldson's Piers Plowman, engaged by the deep editorial and literary-critical issues posed by the text. But they will be more aware of the schematic and aggressively directive nature of penitential writing in an important period in church history, the time after the Fourth Lateran Council, when there was an explosion of interest in vernacular texts for pious layfolk.

Dickstra's diligence and care are everywhere in evidence. His discussion of devotional and literary backgrounds is a model of compression (pp. 29-78; it contains some useful additions to Pantin), especially its sub-section classifying the imagery of confession in the French and English texts (pp. 65-72); and his explanatory notes pursue many biblical influences, often by way of the exegetical commentaries. These notes (pp. 390-441) are, in my view, the most useful part of the book. Not only do they guide the reader through the thickets of Middle French to Middle English translation (the English translator was bad at French; his version would at times be incomprehensible if not for Diekstra's parallel texts and notes), but they occasionally evolve into short essays on linguistic or doctrinal questions relevant to other mediaeval texts, such as the note on page 396 concerning the question of whether God can restore virginity to a woman once she has lost it, or a note on page 422 which explains succinctly a grammatical pun on the two meanings of casus. |fall' and |grammatical case'. The text itself, so far as I can tell, is accurate; a sustained check of the transcription from the single English manuscript (London, British Library, MS Harley 1671) did not turn up any errors. Diekstra's punctuation of his English text can be faulted for sometimes not including a pause where the manuscript shows a distinct and sensible punctus; and he is far too conservative in emending his text, the English especially. Thus on pages 194-5 he keeps the erroneous English dylytyngly for the French diliganment, noting in the introduction that |since it is not possible to tell whether the error is due to the scribe or the original translator, it has to stand'. But it should not. MS Dylytyngly is an easy scribal transposition for dylygyntly, probably the exemplar reading, which should be restored. Such editorial conservatism detracts from the overall quality of the text.

This edition will be of great interest and practical use to students of mediaeval translation, and those concerned with theological backgrounds to Middle French and Middle English literature. And while, from a literary standpoint, the appeal of these texts is not sublime, at times one agrees with Diekstra (quoting Owst) that the Middle English reads like the |missing link' between Guillaume de Deguileville and Bunyan. Indeed, while reading the English translator's version of the Good Samaritan story (p. 123), I even found myself recalling Fielding's version of the Gospel parable in Joseph Andrews!
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Author:Kuczynski, Michael P.
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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