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Medievalism: a Critical History

Medievalism: a Critical History

David Matthews
Series: Medievalism
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Medievalism: a Critical History
    Book Description:

    The field known as "medievalism studies" concerns the life of the Middle Ages after the Middle Ages. Originating some thirty years ago, it examines reinventions and reworkings of the medieval from the Reformation to postmodernity, from Bale and Leland to HBO's Game of Thrones. But what exactly is/> it? An offshoot of medieval studies? A version of reception studies? Or a new form of cultural studies? Can such a diverse field claim coherence? Should it be housed in departments of English, or History, or should it always be interdisciplinary? In responding to such questions, the author traces the history of medievalism from its earliest appearances in the sixteenth century to the present day, across a range of examples drawn from the spheres of literature, art, architecture, music and more. He identifies two major modes, the grotesque and the romantic, and focuses on key phases of the development of medievalism in Europe: the Reformation, the late eighteenth century, and above all the period between 1815 and 1850, which, he argues, represents the zenith of medievalist cultural production. He also contends that the 1840s were medievalism's one moment of canonicity in several European cultures at once. After that, medievalism became a minority form, rarely marked with cultural prestige, though always pervasive and influential. Medievalism: a Critical History scrutinises several key categories - space, time, and selfhood - and traces the impact of medievalism on each. It will be the essential guide to a complex and still evolving field of inquiry. David Matthews teaches medieval studies at the University of Manchester.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-397-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The ghosts of the Middle Ages are unquiet. In the cinema Robin Hood, embodied by Russell Crowe, once more bends his bow in Ridley Scott’s film. J.R.R. Tolkien’s dwarves, drawn from Old Norse legend, seek the gold stolen by a Beowulfian dragon inThe Hobbit:An Unexpected Journey(2012) and its sequel,The Desolation of Smaug(2013). Turn on the television, where the Wars of the Roses are replayed in the BBC’sThe White Queen(2013) and the cathedral of Kingsbridge rises inPillars of the Earth(2010), a series based on Ken Follett’s bestselling novel of the same name...

  8. I Taxonomies

    • 1 How Many Middle Ages?
      (pp. 13-42)

      In a case that came before Southwark Crown Court in 2010, a woman found guilty of slashing her lover’s face with a broken glass was let off with a conditional discharge and a suspended prison sentence because the judge believed she had been threatened with medieval behaviour. During a drug-fuelled sex session – Britain’sDaily Mailreported – the defendant’s lover had wanted to use nipple clamps and hot wax; she had resisted, which led to an assault. Judge Michael Gledhill sounded sympathetic as he said to her, “I’ve seen at least two implements which looked to the untrained eye as medieval...

  9. II Time, Space, Self, Society

    • 2 “Welcome to the Current Middle Ages”: Asynchronous Medievalism
      (pp. 45-64)

      Shekhar Kapoor’s 2007 film,Elizabeth:The Golden Age, sequel to 1998’ sElizabethwith Cate Blanchett again in the title role, depicts the middle years of the Tudor queen’s reign up until the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Continuing the central drama of the earlier film, it traces the virgin queen’s establishment of her legitimacy as a woman on the throne. At the same time, in a scarcely less obvious way, the narrative is a triumphal drama of the forging of a Protestant nation, breaking free from and defining itself against a Catholic past of superstition and oppressive...

    • 3 This Way to the Middle Ages: The Spaces of Medievalism
      (pp. 65-91)

      The dream vision encodes the impossibility of visiting the Middle Ages. When we stand, as tourists, before the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, we are encouraged to think that what we are doing is visiting the Middle Ages. We go to a medieval cathedral of the gothic era: “[T] he illusion of permanence and connectedness with the past is almost perfect,” as Richard Utz writes.¹ In fact this is almost as illusory as the travels undertaken by William Morris’s melancholic dreamers. When we walk in that vast nave, we move amid a palimpsest of all historical eras. We may...

    • 4 On Being Medieval: Medievalist Selves and Societies
      (pp. 92-114)

      J.-K. Huysmans’ 1898 novel,The Cathedral(La Cathédrale), presents the ruminations of Durtal as he seeks spiritual calm in the cathedral of Notre Dame de Chartres. Aided by two priests, Durtal examines the cathedral in all its aspects. The novel consists chiefly of his responses to it, and a depiction of his inner states as he agonises over whether he should adopt the monastic life or not. At the end, Durtal departs from Chartres, with many misgivings, for Solesmes, where he plans to consider the life of a Benedictine monk.

      The Cathedralis a largely meditative novel in which almost...

  10. III History and Discipline

    • 5 Wemmick’s Castle: The Limits of Medievalism
      (pp. 117-139)

      In the first two parts of this book, I have made various claims about the reach and impact of medievalism in a range of contexts, with a particular focus on the British. I have discussed the way in which medievalism can be traced back to the immediate post-medieval period itself, as a product of the invention of the Middle Ages in the sixteenth century. Its major phase in Europe is inextricably associated with the Medieval Revival that began after the middle of the eighteenth century. In Germany, for example, at the height of the Enlightenment with its neoclassical impulses, a...

    • 6 Realism in the Crypt: The Reach of Medievalism
      (pp. 140-164)

      In Marcel Proust’sIn Search of Lost Time, set in France of thefin-de-siècleand early twentieth century, the sense of time is founded on the Middle Ages. As we have seen in chapter 3, Marcel describes the beloved church at Combray as “an edifice occupying, so to speak, a four-dimensional space – the name of the fourth being Time.” He regards both the length of the church’s nave and the depth of its crypt as showing the way in which it extends across the centuries: the nave marking “each successive epoch from which it emerged triumphant,” and the crypt “thrusting...

  11. Conclusion: Against a Synthesis: Medievalism, Cultural Studies, and Antidisciplinarity
    (pp. 165-182)

    As we saw in the introductory chapter, the English adjective “medieval” was a relatively late arrival in the early nineteenth century, and when it came into widespread use it had to overcome the prejudice engendered by its predecessor “gothic.” If “medieval,” originally the neutral alternative to “gothic,” had had a longer history, then in the 1840s the word “neomedievalism” might have been coined instead of “medievalism.” Much might have been simplified thereby. Just as we understand the relation of neoclassicism to classicism, we might today have a terminology which drew a clear distinction between medievalism (meaning phenomena of the Middle...

  12. Afterword
    (pp. 183-184)

    A performance of Lavinia Greenlaw’sA Double Sorrow– her “version,” rather than a translation, ofTroilus and Criseyde– took place in February 2014 and was the last thing of a medievalist kind I saw in the very last stages of writing this book. Or rather, it was the point at which I drew the line, deciding that some end, however arbitrary, must be put to the unstoppable flow of medievalisms which quickly becomes apparent to anyone who chooses to work on them.

    Running slightly late for the performance at London’s Southbank Centre, and having no idea what to expect, we...

  13. Appendix I: The Survey of Reenactors
    (pp. 185-187)
  14. Appendix II: Key Moments in Medievalism
    (pp. 188-192)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 193-206)
  16. Index
    (pp. 207-212)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 213-214)