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Imagining an English Reading Public, 1150-1400

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This original study explores the importance of the concept of habitus – that is, the set of acquired patterns of thought, behavior and taste that result from internalizing culture or objective social structures – in the medieval imagination. Beginning by examining medieval theories of habitus in a general sense, Katharine Breen goes on to investigate the relationships between habitus, language, and Christian virtue. While most medieval pedagogical theorists regarded the habitus of Latin grammar as the gateway to ...

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Overview

This original study explores the importance of the concept of habitus – that is, the set of acquired patterns of thought, behavior and taste that result from internalizing culture or objective social structures – in the medieval imagination. Beginning by examining medieval theories of habitus in a general sense, Katharine Breen goes on to investigate the relationships between habitus, language, and Christian virtue. While most medieval pedagogical theorists regarded the habitus of Latin grammar as the gateway to a generalized habitus of virtue, reformers increasingly experimented with vernacular languages that could fulfill the same function. These new vernacular habits, Breen argues, laid the conceptual foundations for an English reading public. Ranging across texts in Latin and several vernaculars, and including a case study of Piers Plowman, this interdisciplinary study will appeal to readers interested in medieval literature, religion and art history, in addition to those interested in the sociological concept of habitus.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A thoughtful interdisciplinary study, Breen's work constitutes a valuable addition to the field of vernacular studies in the Middle Ages. Her close attention to the Latin, Anglo-Norman and evolving Middle English of her sources makes her arguments convincing, even if further investigation will be needed to reveal the more localized effects of the evolution of habitus in the medieval English imagination."
Mary C. Flannery, Times Literary Supplement

"The pieces of her puzzle, when assembled, produce an innovative and compelling literary history that will surely influence any scholar working on medieval vernacular writers."
Denise L. Despres, University of Puget Sound

"… an excellent book. Deeply considered and extensively researched, it illuminates Piers Plowman and Chaucer’s Treatise in new ways by locating them within a complex understanding of the use of the vernacular in late fourteenth-century England."
Stephanie Hollis, Parergon: Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies

"Katharine Breen's book presents a bold and provocative re-envisioning of what it meant to write in the vernacular in late medieval England. This study thus encourages us to re-imagine what lay behind the great flourishing of vernacular literary culture in the late fourteenth century … [The book] presents complex ideas clearly, and I found it to be well argued. I am confident that it will offer a significant contribution to our understanding of late medieval English literary culture and the place of the vernacular therein. Breen's book raises more questions than it answers - the sign of a provocative study, for sure … It is a testament to this stimulating study that, by exploring the issue of vernacularity within the discourse of habitus, Breen has framed a question that can be explored in many new and potentially invigorating directions."
Michael Johnston, Medium Aevum

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Katharine Breen is an Assistant Professor of English at Northwestern University.

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Table of Contents

1 The fourteenth-century crisis of habit 16

2 Medieval theories of habitus 43

3 The grammatical paradigm 80

4 A crusading habitus 122

5 Piers Plowman and the formation of an English literary habitus 172

Epilogue The King's English 222

Notes 229

Bibliography 261

Index 282

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