2019-2020 Anne Middleton Book Prize
The Anne Middleton Book Prize for 2019-20 is awarded to Nicolette Zeeman for The Arts of Disruption: Allegory and Piers Plowman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020). Zeeman’s study offers a broad and expansive definition of allegory in terms of disruption, as a phenomenon which occurs “at the confluence of any two or more relatively distinct and mutually commenting discourses” (p. 7). This definition enables wonderfully fresh readings of crucial passages in Piers Plowman. Zeeman meticulously addresses moments when vices masquerade as virtues or virtues threaten to degenerate into vices, considers the oppositional structures of debate, confronts the challenges of verbal violence, and investigates the relationship between sin and physical illness and debility. Finally, and this is one of the book’s major highlights, comes a brilliant discussion of how Langland’s artistry of disruption may have been influenced by romance quest narratives, particularly those involving the Holy Grail. Carefully argued, intellectually demanding and theoretically challenging, this erudite and elegantly-written study makes a major contribution to allegory studies in general and to the analysis of Langland’s “allegorical narrative structures” in particular.