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.
"A deeply challenging and engaging book, Medieval Autographies: The ‘I’ of the Text should be required reading in every graduate course in medieval English literature. In wonderfully nuanced close readings of various late medieval texts, A. C. Spearing extends and further theorizes his earlier groundbreaking work in Textual Subjectivity. His proposal of ‘autography’ as a new way of conceptualizing medieval first-person writing should have profound bearing on how future scholars conceptualize, designate, and discuss ‘character,’ ‘intent,’ and ‘voice.’ “ Peter W. Travis, Henry Winkley Professor of Anglo-Saxon and English Language and Literature, Dartmouth College
"A.C. Spearing dares us to think without anachronistic notions, and teaches us, by impressive example, how to become better readers of medieval French and English poetry." Ad Putter, University of Bristol
"Professor Spearing proposes in this new study a nuanced and persuasive theoretical framework for interpreting late medieval first-person narratives without anachronistic dependency on autobiography and modern preoccupations with narrative coherency. Drawing on postmodern theory and French scholarship on the dit, Medieval Autographies promises to spark conversation that extends beyond the Medieval English circle to include French medievalists who will find a worthy cross-disciplinary discussion initiated and literary theorists who will discover a sorely understudied corpus whose relevance is made manifest." Deborah McGrady, University of Virginia
About the Author
A. C. Spearing is the William R. Kenan Professor of English at the University of Virginia.
Table of Contents
1 The Textual First Person 1
2 Autography: Prologues and Dits 33
3 Chaucerian Prologues and the Wife of Bath 65
4 Why Autography 99
5 Hoccleve and the Prologue 129
6 Hoccleve's Series 171
7 Bokenham's Autographies 209