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Tolmie, Jane and M. J. Toswell, eds, Laments for the Lost in Medieval Literature.

Tolmie, Jane and M. J. Toswell, eds, Laments Jot the Lost in Medieval Literature (Medieval Texts and Cultures of Northern Europe 19), Turnhout, Brepols, 2010; hardback; pp. xii, 306; R.R.P. 60.00 [euro]; ISBN 9782503528588.

The essays in Laments Jot the Lost form a broad introduction to lamentation across literatures in Old and Middle English, Latin, Old Norse, Old and Middle French, as well as mystery plays, and even Old Polish drama. Somewhat unusually, the book lacks an introduction from its editors. Instead, Anne L. Klinck calls her essay, the first, a 'contextualizing paper' for what follows (p. 1). She discusses the concept and history of laments and signals the special interest of this volume: mourning for dead children' (p. 17).

That 'special interest' is first explored by Jan M. Ziolkowski in 'Laments for Lost Children: Latin Traditions'. Rebecca Krug's 'Natural Feeling and Unnatural Mothers: Herod the Great, The Life of Saint Bridget, and Chaucer's Clerk's Tale' is an examination of models of medieval parental and family life. Plays about Herod's Massacre of the Innocents are addressed further by Jane Tolmie, who links the theatrical depiction of suffering mothers with ideas of 'God's punishment of Eve for the fall of man' (p. 297).

M. J. Toswell investigates the use of lament psalms in medieval England and their relationship with Old English poetry in the context of 'grief work' because laments 'provide a way to perform that grief, to provide words for the work of mourning' (p. 44). Trauma theory is also used by Mary K. Ramsey in her essay on the OE elegies, in which she calls the poetry 'a locus for remembrance of an individual or communal life' and 'a more general commentary on the mutability of human experience' (p. 52). Amy N. Vines discusses the 'emotional identification' with the Virgin Mary and her 'intimate parental bond' with Christ, encouraged by medieval lullabies and how 'constructing laments can be a means to both acknowledge and overcome grief' (p. 202), while Elizabeth Towl also looks at the mother-son relationship between Mary and Christ, this time in the narrative of the Passion in The Lamentacioun oJ Oure Lady.

Old Norse literature is addressed in two articles on one poem, Sonatorrek. Anne Savage, in the requisite Beowulf essay, posits the poem 'as a verbal artefact of art and grief' (p. 70). The book ends with a 'Postscript/Postlude/ Afterword' by Derek Pearsall, who summarizes the previous articles but draws no overall conclusions. Given the breadth of the volume, many scholars may choose to read Laments Jot the Lost for individual essays rather than for the work as a whole.

Anna Wallace

Department of English

The University of Sydney

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Author:Wallace, Anna
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2011
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