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Medieval Autographies: The
     

Medieval Autographies: The "I" of the Text

by A. C. Spearing
 

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In Medieval Autographies, A. C. Spearing develops a new engagement of narrative theory with medieval English first-person writing, focusing on the roles and functions of the "I" as a shifting textual phenomenon, not to be defined either as autobiographical or as the label of a fictional speaker or narrator. Spearing identifies and explores a previously unrecognized

Overview

In Medieval Autographies, A. C. Spearing develops a new engagement of narrative theory with medieval English first-person writing, focusing on the roles and functions of the "I" as a shifting textual phenomenon, not to be defined either as autobiographical or as the label of a fictional speaker or narrator. Spearing identifies and explores a previously unrecognized category of medieval English poetry, calling it "autography." He describes this form as emerging in the mid-fourteenth century and consisting of extended nonlyrical writings in the first person, embracing prologues, authorial interventions in and commentaries on third-person narratives, and descendants of the dit, a genre of French medieval poetry. He argues that autography arose as a means of liberation from the requirement to tell stories with preordained conclusions and as a way of achieving a closer relation to lived experience, with all its unpredictability and inconsistencies. Autographies, he claims, are marked by a cluster of characteristics including a correspondence to the texture of life as it is experienced, a montage-like unpredictability of structure, and a concern with writing and textuality. Beginning with what may be the earliest extended first-person narrative in Middle English, Winner and Waster, the book examines instances of the dit as discussed by French scholars, analyzes Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Prologue as a textual performance, and devotes separate chapters to detailed readings of Hoccleve's Regement of Princes prologue, his Complaint and Dialogue, and the witty first-person elements in Osbern Bokenham's legends of saints. An afterword suggests possible further applications of the concept of autography, including discussion of the intermittent autographic commentaries on the narrative in Troilus and Criseyde and Capgrave's Life of Saint Katherine.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"… Here, [Spearing] not only extends his work [in Textual Subjectivity] to a new series of texts, but grounds it in another 'supergenre,' the medieval French form of first-person poetry known as the dit . . . [literary critics] could find abundant compensation by becoming as accurate and nuanced readers as Spearing. . . ." —Times Literary Supplement

“Spearing analyzes the autographies of a number of medieval authors, ranging from the widely read Chaucer, through the less well-known Hoccleve, to the unjustly obscure Bokenham (the further study of whom Spearing hopes to encourage). This important and carefully reasoned study. . . . should be eagerly read by specialists teaching about the Middle Ages. Highly recommended.” —Choice

Medieval Autographies is a thought-provoking, elegantly written book that challenges us to think about subjectivity as a literary effect available for ‘a [wide] variety of expressive purposes,’ rather than as the expression of a particular narrator’s point of view. . . . Spearing offers an interpretative framework that might fruitfully be applied to many more texts than his book considers and which will stimulate some worthwhile reflection on what we choose to value in them.” —Review of English Studies

“On the heels of Textual Subjectivity . . . A. C. Spearing once more provides the leverage for medievalists to remain relevant. Added to his ‘supergenre,’ the medieval category of ‘autography,’ defined as ‘extended, non-lyrical, fictional writings in and of the first person’ takes up center stage in Medieval Autographies: The “I” of the Text.” —Sixteenth Century Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780268017828
Publisher:
University of Notre Dame Press
Publication date:
11/15/2012
Series:
ND Conway Lectures in Medieval Studies Series
Edition description:
1st Edition
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

A. C. Spearing is the William R. Kenan Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

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