The Yearbook of Langland Studies, vol. 4.
In the first of the two remaining articles ('The "Hungry Gap", Crop Failure and Famine: The Fourteenth-Century Agricultural Crisis and Piers Plowman'), Robert Frank documents the reality of annual scarcity, as well as periodic dearths and famines, underlying Langland's preoccupation with actual subsistence and with what Frank memorably calls 'masticating man'. The second is a lengthy piece by Helen Barr: 'The Relationship of Richard The Redeless and Mum And The Sothsegger: Some New Evidence'. Statistical tests of 'subliminal stylistic habit', of the kind applied to the Gawain poems by Cooper and Pearsall (RES NS 39 (1988), 365-85), are here applied to Richard and Mum. Such tests necessarily rely on trivial or incidental features of expression and metrical practice which are (therefore) below the level of stylistic choice by the author(s) at issue. I am not sure that I find the procedure convincing in itself, but in the present instance agnostic readers are not required to make up their minds on this point, since the results are declared to be inconclusive. Some apparently significant common ground is discerned amid some apparently significant divergence. The conclusions can thus be (and are) used to support the hypothesis which (according to the abstract included in the Annual Bibliography) the writer has already advanced in her D.Phil. thesis: 'that the two fragments represent two sequential pieces by a single author rather than a single continuous poem'. This seems a perfectly plausible interpretation of the relationship between the 'two' poems; but it also seems rounded on what, with a little pushing, would be an assumption that the 'subliminal stylistic habit' being tested is not a stable quantity, but merely a set of minor traits liable to unpredictable changes under the influence of such things as time, whim, or mood.
The notes comprise: 'A Simoniacal Moment in Piers Plowman', in which Alan Fletcher discusses the deals between parish priests and pardoners referred to at B.Prol.80-2; 'Reason's Horse', in which John Burrow restores at least some logic and coherence to a piece of allegory (at B/C.4.20-3) that is not one of Langland's more inspired moments; 'Piers Plowman A.5.155: "Pyenye"', in which one item in Betty Brewster's list of spices is discovered by Ralph Hanna to be an instance of sin 'absorbing spiritual rhetoric into an already extant discourse'; and 'Revisions in the Athlone Editions of the A and B Versions of Piers Plowman', which consists mainly of a list of changes in commas and the hyphenation of personifications (in Kane's revision of his edition of the A version), helpfully provided by Kathleen Hewett-Smith for anyone who might need it.
The volume is completed by a review article by John Bowers on the essays collected in George Kane's Chaucer and Langland: Historical and Textual Approaches; a review section; and the regular Annual Bibliography (for 1989: eighty-two entries).
MYRA STOKES University of Bristol
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|Publication:||The Review of English Studies|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Aug 1, 1994|
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