Title Background

Was the C-Reviser’s Manuscript Really So Corrupt?

Was the C-Reviser’s Manuscript Really So Corrupt?

This essay challenges the claim made by Kane and Donaldson, in their edition of the B text, that the manuscript of B used by L in revising to C was substantially corrupt. In support of this claim, Kane-Donaldson first adduce one hundred or so instances where B and C agree with each other but differ from A (as edited by Kane). More than half of these readings, however, occur as variants in A manuscripts, but were rejected by Kane because he excluded consideration of BC readings when editing A. In common with other Langlandian scholars, Mann argues that Kane was influenced by a desire to defend his earlier choice of readings in A. Reexamination of the examples cited in Kane-Donaldson leads her to conclude that it is A rather than BC that is ‘scribal’ in these instances. She first selects for discussion three of the eight examples where Kane-Donaldson claim that BC are not only ‘manifestly inferior in sense’ but also show ‘incomprehension’ of A readings and so cannot be authorial; Mann shows that these examples are unconvincing and that A’s text is more probably ‘scribal’ than B; B’s supposed ‘incomprehension’ of A is better described as simple divergence from Kane’s A text. A second set of over twenty-five examples cited by Kane-Donaldson supposedly shows that, although there is no evidence of ‘incomprehension’ in these instances, C shows traces of (what they hold to be) a scribal corruption in B, although the C reviser is unable to restore the ‘correct’ reading (assumed to be that of Kane’s A text) out of his own resources. Selecting nine examples for discussion in detail, Mann shows that (i) B’s reading is not evidently more ‘scribal’ in character than A, and (b) the form of C’s revision is not evidently a response to corruption in B. Testing Kane-Donaldson’s theory through the long lists of examples they give is extremely time-consuming, and probably for that reason the theory has not been seriously challenged so far. Recently there have been some signs of scepticism, which this essay aims to encourage.


New Directions in Medieval Manuscript Studies and Reading Practices: Essays in Honor of Derek Pearsall, ed. by Kathryn Kerby-Fulton, John Thompson and Sarah Baechle (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2014), pp. 452-466.


Mann, Jill