Book Reviews

Anglo-Saxon Emotions: Reading the Heart in Old English Language, Literature and Culture ed. by Alice Jorgensen, Frances McCormack, and Jonathan Wilcox

Matt Firth (reviewer) – Parergon 32 (No. 2, 2015)

This edited collection of fourteen essays ambitiously seeks not only to apply the study of the history of emotions to Old English and Anglo-Latin literature, but also to set the terms of reference for its future study. The collection admirably fulfils its stated aim to bring emotion to the forefront of Anglo-Saxon studies and harness the current interdisciplinary interest in emotions. (Full review at Project Muse)

Bishops, Authority and Community in Northwestern Europe, c.1050– 1150, by John Ott

Matt Firth (reviewer) – Journal of the Australian Early Medieval Association 12 (2016)

In his first full-length authored book, John S. Ott draws together his career-long research into the bishoprics of north-western France in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, their power structures, and the execution of episcopal authority. While this topic itself is not innovative—both Giles Constable and R. I. Moore, among others, have written extensively on the dichotomies of clerical power—Ott’s approach to analysing contemporary conceptions of ecclesiastical authority is innovative.

Ott bases his analysis upon written materials produced within regional ecclesiastical centres and the ideal characteristics these seek to project upon a bishop. With these societal notions of idealism established, Ott is then able to examine how bishops managed those expectations and balanced the demands of regional and spiritual power in practical expressions of authority. It is an ambitious methodology, yet a volatile one whose conclusions are subject to the cultural variations of geography and time. The author has thus necessarily restricted the scope of the book. The study is geographically confined to the regions of Flanders and Picardy—the archdiocese of Rheims—disregarding Scandinavia, England, and other regions that could reasonably be associated with ‘north-western Europe’. Likewise, it is limited to the years 1050– 1150, a century that Ott argues represents a brief period of episcopal authority in which bishops were free of the traditions of their forebears, and the bureaucratic concerns of their successors. (Full review at Informit)

Death, Torture and the Broken Body in European Art, 1300 – 1650 ed. by John R. Decker and Mitzi Kirkland-Ives

Matt Firth (reviewer) – Parergon 33 (No. 1, 2016)

This collection of essays builds on an already extensive body of literature examining the depiction of the desecrated body in medieval and early modern European art. Comprising case studies from nine art historians, the collection does not adhere to a strict periodisation framework and avoids a near-sighted focus upon art in isolation. Exploring the full range of social, cultural, spiritual, and political contexts in which these visual depictions of the brutalised body were created, the contributors seek to make sense of the cultures of torture and violence that validated such imagery. The essays are illustrated by an extensive array of details and images, though regrettably none is in colour. The book is divided into two parts: the first looks to martyrdom and the violence of hagiography; the second considers civic values as reflected by the social violence of justice and war. (Full review at Project Muse)

Learning to Die in London, 1380–1540 by Amy Appleford

Matt Firth (reviewer) – Parergon 33 (No. 1, 2016)

In a book that is as much a product of a fascination with representations of death and dying as it is an exploration of contemporary cultural attitudes these representations display, Amy Appleford traces the evolution of mortality in London during a ‘long’ fifteenth century. Defining the period as bracketed by the Black Death and the Reformation, Appleford explores significant social changes that were not geographically or conceptually limited to London. Nonetheless, as she carefully establishes, in this period, ‘death became a focus of special intensity’ (p. 2) and, by limiting her study to London, Appleford provides the reader with a serviceable structure. From the legacy of the city’s burgeoning literary culture, she has selected texts for five case studies that allow her to move the discussion along chronologically. (Full review at Project Muse)


Medieval History from Alfred the Great to The Battle of Castillon

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