Title Background

<i>Documentary Culture and the Making of Medieval English Literature.</i>

Documentary Culture and the Making of Medieval English Literature.

This book argues that documentary culture (including charters, testaments, patents, and seals) enabled writers to think in new ways about the conditions of textual production in late-medieval England. Steiner explains that the distinctive rhetoric, material form, and ritual performance of legal documents offered writers of Chaucer’s generation and the generation succeeding him a model of literary practice. Chapter 3, entitled, “Piers Plowman and the Archive of Salvation,” is a revised version of an article earlier published (YLS 14 [2000], for which see “Annual Bibliography 2000,” YLS 15 [2001]: 257–58). This chapter argues that “Langland used the written record—the clerkly activities that produced it, its ceremonial delivery, and its archival afterlife—to describe the penitential writing of salvation history,” while “Chapter four, ‘Writing public: Documents in the Piers Plowman Tradition,’ reconsiders L’s documents from the perspective of post-Langlandian literature,” including John Ball’s letters and Mum and the Sothsegger. For Steiner, “Langland’s documents model an ideal of public writing by positing a discursive realm between disclosure (what society reveals about itself, that writing which protrudes from persons and institutions) and address (a writing that meddles, intrudes, or passes judgment upon others). Whereas for Langland, documentary writing remained an ideal never fully realized by the poem, for the rebels of 1381 and the Mum-poet, legal documents served as a viable model for demanding political action or offering counsel. Significantly, however, this documentary mode of public writing was first elaborated in Piers Plowman, and in many respects sets the terms for a Piers Plowman ‘tradition’.” (11–12) [ES]

Rev. by:

  • Christopher Baswell, YLS 18 (2004): 193-99;
  • Ad Putter, Times Literary Supplement 5303 (11/19/2004): 4-6;
  • Helen Barr, Studies in the Age of Chaucer, 27 (2005), 361–64;
  • Julia Boffey, Medievalia et Humanistica, n.s. 31 (2005), 168–70;
  • M. T. Clanchy, Law and History Review, 23 (2005), 206–08;
  • Joyce Coleman, Notes & Queries, n.s. 52 (2005), 240–41;
  • Eileen A. Joy, Sixteenth Century Journal, 36 (2005), 519–21;
  • Carol Symes, Medieval Review, 04.07.13;
  • Míceál F. Vaughan, Journal of English and Germanic Philology, 104 (2005), 294–96.