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Traditions and Innovations in the Study of Medieval English Literature

Traditions and Innovations in the Study of Medieval English Literature: The Influence of Derek Brewer

Charlotte Brewer
Barry Windeatt
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 318
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  • Book Info
    Traditions and Innovations in the Study of Medieval English Literature
    Book Description:

    Derek Brewer (1923-2008) was one of the most influential medievalists of the twentieth century, first through his own publications and teaching, and later as the founder of his own academic publishing firm. His working life of some sixty years, from the late 1940s to the 2000s, saw enormous advances in the study of Chaucer and of Arthurian romance, and of medieval literature more generally. He was in the forefront of such changes, and his understandings of Chaucer and of Malory remain at the core of the modern critical mainstream. Essays in this collection take their starting point from his ideas and interests, before offering their own fresh thinking in those key areas of medieval studies in which he pioneered innovations which remain central: Chaucer's knight and knightly virtues; class-distinction; narrators and narrative time; lovers and loving in medieval romance; ideals of feminine beauty; love, friendship and masculinities; medieval laughter; symbolic stories, the nature of romance, and the ends of storytelling; the wholeness of Malory's Morte Darthur; modern study of the medieval material book; Chaucer's poetic language and modern dictionaries; and Chaucerian afterlives. This collection builds towards an intellectual profile of a modern medievalist, cumulatively registering how the potential of Derek Brewer's work is being reinterpreted and is renewing itself now and into the future of medieval studies. Charlotte Brewer is Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University and a Fellow of Hertford College, Oxford; Barry Windeatt is Professor of English in the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Contributors: Elizabeth Archibald, Charlotte Brewer, Mary Carruthers, Christopher Cannon, Helen Cooper, A.S.G. Edwards, Jill Mann, Alastair Minnis, Derek Pearsall, Corinne Saunders, James Simpson, A.C. Spearing, Jacqueline Tasioulas, Robert Yeager, Barry Windeatt.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-117-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Contributors
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Note on References
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. Introduction: A Modern Medievalist’s Career
    (pp. 1-17)
    Barry Windeatt and Charlotte Brewer

    Derek Brewer was the founding figure in the post-war study of Chaucer. Through his eponymous publishing firm, he subsequently went on to contribute more than any other individual to furthering modern study of the early literatures and cultures of these islands. An irrepressibly positive and genial personality, his humanity and kindness as a teacher, scholar and publisher enabled and changed many lives. In a sixty-year career as a critic of medieval English and other literature, Brewer foresaw and pioneered much that has since developed into defining aspects of the field. Far from being a backward-looking memorial volume or Festschrift, the...

  7. 1 Derek Brewer: Chaucerian Studies 1953–78
    (pp. 18-33)
    Derek Pearsall

    Having completed his studies at Oxford after military service in the war, Derek Brewer took up a lectureship at the University of Birmingham in 1949. He joined there with Geoffrey Shepherd and, two years later, Eric Stanley to form a remarkable medieval triumvirate. During the years in which they worked together, Birmingham was a power-house of Old English and Middle English Studies, perhaps second to none in its day. Derek Brewer, who left for Cambridge in 1964, taught across the medieval syllabus, including Anglo-Saxon, but Chaucer, even in those earliest days, was the principal focus of his interest. He soon...

  8. 2 Brewer’s Chaucer and the Knightly Virtues
    (pp. 34-47)
    Alastair Minnis

    The consonance between the character of Derek Brewer and the character of much medieval literature was elegantly noted in the fine obituary which Barry Windeatt wrote for The Independent newspaper:

    People often commented that it was the moral concerns of English medieval literature – courtesy, honour, loyalty and integrity – that they observed to be lived out in Brewer’s life.

    (Windeatt 2008)

    Here Windeatt evokes the gentlemanly virtues – the remnants of a knightly value-system wherein great store was set by honour and gentilesse (nobility of birth or rank together with the attendant moral qualities of nobility of character or manners; generosity, kindness,...

  9. 3 Class Distinction and the French of England
    (pp. 48-59)
    Christopher Cannon

    There is a long-standing view that French, or Anglo-Norman, was a ‘true vernacular’ in medieval England (Sugget 1946: 79). Johan Vising (1923: 8) made the earliest and broadest claims, insisting that there was a ‘complete dominance of the Anglo-Norman language during the second half of the twelfth and most of the thirteenth century’ as well as a ‘penetration even into the lower strata of society’. In this view of literature in England in this period, ‘Anglo-Norman often takes the lead, and English follows not as an alternative, but as a substitute’ (Salter 1988: 33). We are therefore not even studying...

  10. 4 Time in Troilus and Criseyde
    (pp. 60-72)
    A. C. Spearing

    Derek Brewer was an extraordinarily energetic and prolific writer, whose work was published in many different lands – if not from China to Peru, certainly from Japan to Germany. It was sometimes hard, even for his colleagues (of whom I was one for over twenty years) and his admirers (among whom I have never ceased to be), to keep up with his publications. I begin this essay on some aspects of time in Troilus and Criseyde from my own failure to know in time about one such publication. For years I had been increasingly sceptical about the concept of ‘the narrator’...

  11. 5 Virtue, Intention and the Mind’s Eye in Troilus and Criseyde
    (pp. 73-87)
    Mary Carruthers

    Early on in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, the adolescent prince Troilus, while cruising the Trojan girls at the Palladion festival in Troy, happens to see the young widow Criseyde standing in the crowd (1.269–301). ‘His eye percede’ the crowd deeply until it ‘smote’ Criseyde and stopped (‘stente’), like an arrow (1.272–3; cf. 1.325). The effect on him is immediate: ‘he wax ther-with astoned … And of hire look [appearance] in him ther gan to quyken/ So gret desire …/ That in his hertes botme gan to stiken/ Of hir his fixe and depe impressioun’ (1.274, 295–8). Snail-like,...

  12. 6 Falling in Love in the Middle Ages
    (pp. 88-110)
    Jill Mann

    My title carries an implicit question: was falling in love in the Middle Ages different from falling in love today? The question reflects the still widespread belief that medieval lovers adhered to a systematized ‘code’ of ‘courtly love’, a special, artificial variety of romantic love that obliged the lover to act in strange and exaggerated ways – to love without necessarily revealing his love to the lady concerned, to remain her devoted slave for years without seeking so much as a kiss by way of reward, to obey her every whim, however humiliating, to faint, to weep, to adore her as...

  13. 7 The Idea of Feminine Beauty in Troilus and Criseyde, or Criseyde’s Eyebrow
    (pp. 111-127)
    Jacqueline Tasioulas

    Like everyone else who knew Derek Brewer, I feel extremely lucky to have done so, and I treasure the memory of all our conversations. In particular, I remember one that prompted considerable amusement for both of us. It was a discussion of Criseyde’s joined eyebrows: Derek arguing with both learned authority and great humour that such a feature was not regarded as unattractive in the classical sources. Since then, I have often reflected on Criseyde’s appearance, and on the function of beauty in Troilus and Criseyde, and have returned to Derek’s foundational article: ‘The Ideal of Feminine Beauty in Medieval...

  14. 8 ‘Greater love hath no man’: Friendship in Medieval English Romance
    (pp. 128-143)
    Corinne Saunders

    Friendship was a subject of special resonance for Derek Brewer because of its close relation in medieval writing to the themes of loyalty, courage and honour that were dear to his heart and expressed in his own, deeply chivalrous, mode of being in the world. For rather different reasons, the topic of friendship has attracted the attention of scholars working on the medieval and early modern periods in the last several decades. Cultural and literary explorations of friendship, and particularly same-sex friendship, provide alternative perspectives on the subject of love, suggest hidden and forbidden desires and illuminate political, social, moral...

  15. 9 Gowerian Laughter
    (pp. 144-153)
    R. F. Yeager

    My subject is Gowerian laughter – or perhaps, for the sake of greater clarity, laughter as it appears in John Gower’s poems. It’s a subject that interested Derek Brewer, although he never wrote about it himself. We did discuss it, however, the last time being in New York, over lunch during the New Chaucer Society Congress in 2004, during a rambling conversation about, among other things, medieval humour in general. Unlike many committed Chaucerians, Derek had no difficulty acknowledging that Gower could be funny – intentionally funny, that is, not merely laughter’s butt – or that Gower knew when he could call upon...

  16. 10 Derek Brewer’s Romance
    (pp. 154-172)
    James Simpson

    Derek Brewer distributed his abundant scholarly energies and gifts among three distinct areas: Chaucer studies, Malory and romance.² In this essay I develop Brewer’s clear, consistent and, in my view, almost wholly accurate understanding of one of these areas, that of romance. I do so in the conviction that Middle English scholarship continues to labour under the spell of disabling generic confusions about romance. Above all, it continues to set tragic literary texts in the same category as ‘comic’ literary texts. By tragedy I mean works about kings that end unhappily both for the kings and for the societies they...

  17. 11 Malory and Late Medieval Arthurian Cycles
    (pp. 173-187)
    Elizabeth Archibald

    The Festschrift for Derek Brewer published in his lifetime was devoted to Chaucer’s Nachleben, in tribute to the enormous and innovative contribution he made to the study of Chaucer’s heritage (Morse and Windeatt 1990). But another volume could have been focused on Arthurian literature, a field very dear to him where he also made very important contributions, both as a critic and as a publisher. Boydell & Brewer publish the journal Arthurian Literature, and their invaluable Arthurian Studies series now runs to over eighty volumes (many cited in this essay); it includes a number of Companions which deal with Arthurian...

  18. 12 The Ends of Storytelling
    (pp. 188-201)
    Helen Cooper

    Storytelling may be one of the very oldest human activities after the acquisition of language. Language is a symbolic process that produces signifying sounds as a substitute for the things themselves; story allows those sounds to be linked to describe a sequence of events that are not present as fact but that have their existence in the mind, as memory or conjecture or imagination. The very earliest cave paintings or rock art suggest pre-existing stories of some kind behind them. Studies of memory formation and of childhood psychology suggest that it is the ability to form narratives, to shape random...

  19. 13 Manuscripts, Facsimiles and Approaches to Editing
    (pp. 202-214)
    A. S. G. Edwards

    The trajectory of Derek Brewer’s academic career does not invariably reflect trends of modern scholarship. Relatively few of his many publications are directly concerned with the topics of this chapter. But his activities in these areas of manuscript and textual study show that his sense of the potential for new forms of scholarly enquiry in medieval English studies was often remarkably prescient. By the time of his death, Middle English manuscript study and editing had come to enjoy positions of importance in which their historical and cultural significance were increasingly acknowledged. Brewer’s own roles in these developments warrant some exploration,...

  20. 14 Words and dictionaries: OED, MED and Chaucer
    (pp. 215-261)
    Charlotte Brewer

    One of the distinctive features of Derek Brewer’s criticism was its close and consistent grounding in the details of the texts he wrote about, particularly the denotations and connotations of individual words: the range of meanings carried by words like sovereignty, serve, honour, truthe, for example, or the implications of the use of pronouns of address and of personal names. Throughout his published writings, Brewer drew on definitions and quotations from the OED, and he had a personal connection with that dictionary too – partly through his acquaintance with one of its four original editors, C. T. Onions (Fellow and librarian...

  21. 15 Afterlives: The Fabulous History Of Venus
    (pp. 262-278)
    Barry Windeatt

    ‘Medieval writers found Venus a goddess and left her a personification’ (Brewer 1960b: 30), and the history of Venus throughout the Middle Ages and long afterwards, from the mythographers to the Romantics, was just one aspect of the larger fascination with literary inheritance and influence that led Derek Brewer to foundational work on the reception of Chaucer from 1400 to the present. It was Chaucer’s Venuses that prompted Brewer’s interest both in their antecedents and in their successors in the Renaissance and thereafter (Brewer 1992, 1995, 2002b, 2006b).¹ The present essay revisits the fabulous history of Venus, exploring fifteenth-century afterlives...

  22. Afterword: Derek Brewer: with full deuout corage
    (pp. 279-282)
    E. G. Stanley

    Charlotte Brewer and Barry Windeatt have allowed me to see the book for which they asked me to write a short piece. Derek and Elisabeth Brewer were close friends of mine for almost sixty years. I knew Derek best when we saw each other almost every day in Birmingham at the beginning of our academic lives, and of course I saw less of him when the three of us, Geoffrey Shepherd, Derek, and I, were no longer together discussing everything we did by way of teaching and scholarly writing. I am glad that this book, a monument raised in his...

  23. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-308)
  24. Index
    (pp. 309-315)
  25. Tabula in Memoriam
    (pp. 316-318)
  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 319-319)