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Steven Justice and Kathryn Kerby-Fulton (eds), Written Work: Langland, Labor, and Authorship. Pp. ix + 347 (The Middle Ages Series). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. [pounds]42.75 (ISBN 0-8122-3396-4).
This collection of essays about a short passage in the C text of Piers Plowman reflects the conference mentality: a number of persons discover a common interest and decide to publish jointly. It thus differs from books of essays collected by invitation such as S. S. Hussey's 1969 Piers Plowman: Critical Approaches and Robert Blanch's Style and Symbolism in Piers Plowman of the same year, anthologizing notable essays with a broad common theme. In this book the contributors so to speak mount the dais, grip the lectern, and hold forth. For each this is the single C version passage 'in which Langland seems explicitly to offer biographical detail'; they find 'in this moment of apparent self-portraiture an opening, intended or otherwise, into the character of vernacular authorship in Ricardian England'.
There is no statement of editorial policy. In a bare dozen pages of Introduction headed 'Authorial Work and Literary Ideology' one of the title-page editors describes the common theme just noted; then, dropping names of literary critics as he goes (incidentally misapplying the intentional fallacy), he sketches some concepts of the mode of existence of poetry, and then of Piers Plowman as one or several poems, and puts the occasion to use to break a lance with Donaldson and myself over our reconstruction of B XV '504-69, finding (inevitably) that the two-copy family RF represents another 'tradition' - elsewhere he writes of 'versions'. Observation as we collated of how often and for evident reasons omission and dislocation occurred had regrettably inhibited us from considering the explanation he offers 'very likely'. He finds B XV 526-30 'a syntactical mess': for his information the absolute infinite in 529 is injunctive, incidentally creating the figures detractio and antitheton (Lausberg [sections]668, 696). As for the uniqueness of 564, 'Here alone . . . Langland uses an imperative rather than the future indicative', it recurs as C XVII 227, authenticated by the argument of 228-32.
Next follows a 'revised edition' of Pearsall's text of the focal passage, with a facing translation boldly headed 'Will's "Apologia pro vita sua" '. The translation in strophie prose occasionally flowers into exegesis: thus lewede ermytes (4) becomes 'lay "hermits" so-called', and knyhtes-fees (77) 'estates appropriate to their status'. It is not always faithful to the text. Thus in 3 where lytel ylet by means 'held of little account' the litotes 'not in high favour' is stylistically intrusive. In 6 cam by means 'acquired, attained to, understood' (MED, 4a (e), (f)), and acquires physical meaning only when following mette establishes the personifications; in 9 no dede to do the infinitive is governed by lovede 8; the translation 'had nothing to do' is simply an error; in 11 remembrance is region-allegory; the translation's 'lost' is intrusive; in 18 shep and kyne dryue means 'look after, care for': the translation lets stand 'keep', which in modern English means 'raise, as a farmer'; similarly 19 dryue means 'herd'. In 29 the speaker asks a straight question, 'Do you beg?', of which the force is lost in circumlocution. In 30 feste-dayes signifies, correctly, 'church holy-days or anniversaries', not 'church fast-days' (MED s.v. feste). In 32 the personification of ryhtfulnesse, 'God who is justice', is missed. In 49 fouchen-saf means 'graciously grant, are so gracious as (to)', never, pace Skeat, 'guarantee'. In 79 Symondes sones means 'followers of Simon Magus': there is no figure of speech here. In 80 be longe hermes means 'long been absent': 'a remote …