Archive for the ‘Landscape Theory’ Category

With the help of the SLU Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies I have organized the following sessions for the upcoming Medieval Congress. Please attend if you are interested and tell your friends!

  • Saturday 10:00 am: Session 384, Schneider 1340

Landscape and Culture in Medieval Britain I: Spaces and Buildings

Spatial Paradox and the Ambiguity of Guthlac A

Lindy Brady, Univ. of Connecticut

This paper addresses the crucial role of borderlands as spaces where identity slippages take place in the Old English Guthlac A, calling into question the poem’s traditional interpretation as a triumph of Anglo-Saxon sanctity over native resistance.  While Guthlac is typically understood as a heroic conqueror who enters a hostile wilderness for righteous battle, I argue that the complex narrative of Guthlac A creates a paradoxical landscape that reveals Guthlac’s own character to be equally unstable.  The poem places three simultaneously occurring yet mutually exclusive conditions of ownership on the beorg—it is granted to the demons as a space of respite, awaits the claim of a better owner, and stands outside all patrial rights.  These paradoxes are necessary to the unity of the narrative, for while Guthlac is tasked with righteous battle, the demons are given just cause to resist him; yet moreover, the suggestion that Guthlac is unjustly seizing another’s land complicates his saintly identity. Crucially, the nature of the landscape itself is as ambiguous as its legal status.  Previous criticism on Guthlac A has assumed that the beorg undergoes a linear transformation from dangerous wilderness to locus amoenus and taken this as evidence of the triumph of (Anglo-Saxon) civilization over (native British) wilderness, particularly in recent postcolonial studies of the work.  Yet such theoretical approaches are predicated upon a transformation of the landscape only once the saint has triumphed.  Guthlac A, however, depicts the beorg as simultaneously dangerous and aesthetically desirable to both Guthlac and the demons before the saint’s victory, and to read him as the sole transformative force is to ignore these positive elements of the landscape that make his role as an agent of change far less clear.

“Eald is þes eorðsele”: The Ancestral Landscape of The Wife’s Lament

Joanna A. Huckins MacGugan, Univ. of Connecticut 

[Joanna cannot attend the conference this year, but her abstract is still pretty darn interesting!] The nature and meaning of the narrator’s physical space in the semantically ambiguous Anglo-Saxon poem “The Wife’s Lament” has been the focus of considerable scholarly debate. The wife describes þes eorðsele, the place of her confinement, as eald, which suggests that she inhabits a place of considerable antiquity. R.F. Leslie was the first to identify this space as a chambered barrow in 1961, and Sarah Semple suggested in 1998 that the Wife’s situation represents secondary burial in a prehistoric barrow tomb. A careful analysis of the language surrounding eorðsele and its synonym eorðscræfe reveals not only that “grave” is the most likely meaning for the Wife’s physical space, but also that this grave corresponds with the known archaeological context for Anglo-Saxon reuse of earlier burial monuments. The poem describes an ancient underground location within a constructed enclosure that is now isolated, abandoned and overgrown, a place imbued with pre-Christian meaning and associated with death and damnation. All of these characteristics, particularly the poet’s emphasis on a connection with the ancestral past, are perfectly in keeping with what we understand of Anglo-Saxon monument reuse. Yet nowhere in Anglo-Saxon literature does an ancient barrow actually serve as a prison for the living, and this is the central problem with a living narrator. The idea that the Wife is imprisoned for her sins suggests a possible penitential context for the poem that has not yet been addressed in the scholarship. The present study builds on Leslie’s original argument for a monumental barrow tomb, evaluates textual and archaeological evidence for secondary burial, and explores how the “monument reuse” interpretation can both clarify and complicate the text.

Jedburgh Abbey: A Case Study of Kingship

Jessica M. Aberle, Lehigh Univ.

The Border Abbeys were conceived of as active political strategies by David I as part of his campaign to conquer Northumbria and Cumbria. If the abbeys are examined within the framework of the twelfth-century Normano-Scottish Border, a pattern emerges suggesting that the iconography and locations were intentionally chosen to create a visually complex program that proclaimed David I’s royal identity as the new Northern King of Britain by asserting his claim to the ancient kingdom of Northumbria. David I created a new royal heartland at Roxburgh Castle with the foundation of Kelso, Melrose, and Jedburgh Abbeys (1128-1138). David I’s approach to landscape can be explored using three themes: Location as it Defines Influence, the Creation of a Lordly Landscape, and the Appropriation of Site. David I manipulated the placement of the ecclesiastical foundations within the landscape in order to lay claim to Northumbria as the Northern King of Britain. Through the creation of a carefully crafted landscape focused on Roxburgh, David I challenged Stephen the Norman king of England with the intention of creating a Scoto-Northumbrian kingdom with its center at Roxburgh. For the purposes of this conference, I would use Jedburgh Abbey (1138) as a case study to discuss how David I used both architectural cues and the careful selection of location to express both his identity as the Northern King of Britain and his claim to Northumbria.

Spatiality, Ecclesiastics, and Community in The Book of Margery Kempe

Chiu-Yen Lin, Tamkang Univ.

This paper aims to employ Henri Lefebvre’s theory of social space in discussing the issue of spatiality and its relation to Margery’s mystical space, her audience, and their community in The Book of Margery Kempe. The concept of spatiality is composed by three parts: mystical space, religious space, and communal space. The first part of the paper surveys the social and historical context of King’s Lin and Norwich in relation to the development of commerce and the changes on the communal life and religious space. Lefebvre’s conception of absolute space and abstract space will be employed to aid this survey. It attempts to sketch out the context of The Book which Margery’s mystical space is derived from. The second part of the essay deals with Margery’s mystical experience in relation to the communal space and religious space. I attempt to argue that the unconventional manner of Margery’s mystical experience which comes from her meditative dialogues with Christ and her performance of affective piety is produced from and shaped by the specific communal space which allows her to intrude the male dominated religious space. The third part traces the interaction between Margery’s mystical space, communal space and religious space with an emphasis on how Margery’s unconventional mystical experience negotiates and alters power relations and social relations in the communal and religious space. In conclusion, by brining Lefebvre’s theory into the discussion I attempt to sketch out the interconnection of mystical, religious, and communal spaces in that it reveals different levels of power struggles in terms of seizing religious and communal places and spaces while at the time Margery’s mystical experience is deeply embedded in the intertwined spaces.


  • Saturday 1:30pm: Session 443- Schneider 1340

Landscape and Culture in Medieval Britain II: Places and Maps

England in the Douce 98 Place List

Camin Melton, Fordham Univ.

In the manuscript Douce 98 in the Oxford Bodleian Library there is a list of 108 places in England written in Anglo-Norman French and dating to c. 1300. Each location featured in the list is coupled with a single notable characteristic, ranging from the industry or food that a particular town or region was presumably known for at the time to more abstract and often surprising characteristics like the “whores of Charing” or the “marvel of Stonehenge.” Though this list is unique among the surviving corpus of Anglo-Norman literature, it has only received passing interest from historians and literary critics. In this paper, it is my goal to provide a modern edition of the list and to present a translation of its places and things. I will also speculate on the nature and purposes of the list by considering it in relation to the earlier and later lists that attempt to do something similar. This text is worthy of greater consideration than it has received because it occupies a space between the itinerary and the map, between the simple listing of counties, bishoprics, and saints’ resting places and the more elaborate description of medieval towns and countrysides, between the assertion of the voracity of English religious history and the assertion of England as a locus for widespread mercantile activity, and finally between the practical text and the narrative text (if such a distinction can be made). Any attempt to render this place list a simple apparatus for achieving one practical end must surely give way upon further examination of and close attention to its narrative movement, its humor, and the multiple cognitive activities it encourages, from remembering the names of places to understanding those places’ collectively imagined part in the English whole to mapping out the industrial nexuses of the island.

My Land, Myself: Topographical Narrative and the Construction of Identity in

Sir Isumbras

Andrew Richmond, Ohio State Univ.

In the Middle English romance of Sir Isumbras, the experience of the narrative itself is intimately entwined with the presentation of landscape. Progressing from the loss of a cultural power for manipulating the use of his geological, vegetative, and animal surroundings, the eponymous hero is forced to learn the contours, “nature” and uses of his environment(s) by physical experience. In addition to the trying experiences of dangerous (or ultimately beneficent) beasts, forests and rivers characteristic of the romance genre, Sir Isumbras demonstrates a peculiar fascination with the rise and fall of the “londe” itself, tracing the minute progress of the hero up hills and across stones. These elevated spaces serve as literal and figurative platforms upon which Isumbras can decry (and in doing so define) his state, while often simultaneously providing stages for the scenes of sudden action that thrust the plot forward. This paper, then, will seek to demonstrate how Sir Isumbras ultimately ties the social and cultural “ascension” of the hero and his family to his ability to manipulate the matter of the earth, as he moves from stone-bearer to blacksmith to recast knight, ready to employ his environmental education to reassert his control over the cultural as well as physical landscape of the Sultan’s kingdom. For Isumbras, worth (practical, economic, social) remains inextricably entwined with the land, and narrative itself becomes a literal mapping of one’s progress across a countryside of cause and effect.

Aerial and Serial Perspectives in the Description of Cities Genre

Chelsea Maude Avirett, Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison

When Gregorius first encounters Rome, he stands overlooking it from a panoramic perspective. He later describes this vista in his description of the city (in The Marvels of Rome), by presenting the city as a landscape object, viewing it from a distance and as a single entity. This type of panoramic and aerial view of cities — or natural landscapes — occurs frequently in medieval literature: Chaucer gazes across the countryside as he dangles from an eagle’s claws, manuscripts depict contained civic spaces, and the descriptio or encomium urbis genre describes cities, including depictions of London, from a dual (and dueling) perspective: from a distance and from the city’s streets. This paper examines how authors use the imagined aerial perspective of cities throughout the late fourteenth century, at a time when depictions of serial civic walkers become more prevalent as well. Does the aerial perspective offer an ideal of community, which nuances or conflicts with the individual’s serial and often solitary movement? Or does it offer an atemporal and asocial view of society in which architecture and topography replace the living breathing city? This paper draws on intersections between landscape studies and the geographic subfield of mobility. While usually considered as disparate disciplines — landscapes are, after all, static while mobility studies seeks to interrogate the cultural implications of movement — this paper looks at what happens when medieval authors switch from and between an aerial, landscape perspective to a serial, mobile one. I focus on cities because — as Michel de Certeau demonstrates in his analysis of city walkers — the experience of viewing one and moving through one are, on the surface, radically different. However, for medieval authors, both offered a rich way to examine the productive tension between two modes of interacting with architectural space.

“His Troublous Dysease”: John Leland, Mental Illness, and the Map of England

Ruth Babb, St. Louis Univ.

In 1549, John Bale published a letter by John Leland, a noted antiquarian who had worked for King Henry VIII before he “fell besides his wittes” in 1547. This letter, which Bale calls a “newe yeares gyft” and dates in 1546 (though some scholars have put it as early as 1543) details Leland’s attempt to catalog and make available the contents of the holy libraries of England. While this task is daunting enough, and one that both authors consider a “laboriouse journey and costly enterprise,” it is not the end of Leland’s ambition. The bulk of his letter is taken up with a plan to show “the old glory of your renouned Britaine to reflorish through the world.” This plan, which Bale says would have been “one of the greatest wonders that ever yet was seane in this regyon,” was meant to consist of a map of the land engraved on a silver table, fifty-six books of English history, and a catalog of England’s royalty. Unfortunately Leland’s madness interfered, and his work was lost. I will argue that Leland’s obsession with the land and his then-unique approach to presenting it were linked to his illness. In order to accomplish this, I will contextualize the “Gift” within the historical conception of madness and Leland’s extant corpus to illuminate the time and nature of his sickness. Then Leland’s project will be compared to other cartographical undertakings of the time to show its unusual nature, and a close reading of Leland and Bale’s writing will tie Leland’s ambitious pitch with Bale’s prayers for his health. While I will not attempt a diagnostic stance from this evidence, I will argue that conceptualizing England played a large role in Leland’s eventual madness.


  • Saturday 3:30pm: Session 501- Schneider 1340

Landscape and Culture in Medieval Britain III: Domestic and Wild Spaces

Wild Spaces, Wild Creatures: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Heide Estes, Monmouth Univ.

The narrative of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight contains three very different landscapes: the courts of Arthur and Bertilak; the wilderness through which Gawain travels between the two; and the site of the Green Chapel. Gawain’s wilderness is populated by ferocious (but real) wild animals as well as monsters we understand as fictional. Gawain must fight them off at every turn — but the weather is worse. And so is the Green Chapel, with the Green Knight grinding his axe to a point and threatening Gawain’s death. In this paper, I investigate these kinds of spaces using Lawrence Buell’s paradigm separating “space,” “place,” and “non-space” to argue that the locations and landscapes described in the poem veer between these categories. In addition, I use the insights of authors such as Andrew Furman and Kimberly N. Ruffin, who challenge ecocritical valorizations of wilderness, to explore the meanings of wilderness and wildness in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. A careful reading of that text illuminates some of the assumptions that underlie contemporary discussions of place and wilderness, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of ecocritical discussion of landscape.

Gawain in Space

Ally McNitt, Univ. of Oklahoma

Theories of literary analysis are valuable tools for reading The Weddynge of Syr Gawen and Dame Ragnelle.  The poem’s setting is freighted with significance; forests are not merely forests, and  sprawling, open spaces are far from empty.  Spatial analysis of the poem offers a new perspective on an old story, a new and illuminating way to examine the significance of Gawain’s quest to represent Camelot’s social position through his actions at a distance and through his bearing the “essence” of that place while physically remote from it.

Enclosed in the Castle: Gwenyver in Malory’s Morte Darthur

Molly Martin, McNeese State Univ.

Castles play a prominent and very visible role in Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur, acting as geographical landmarks, political centers, homes, prisons, and custom keepers. They are fortified and defended, attacked and overrun. They witness tournaments and battles. They are loci for the commencement and completion of countless quests. Castles even participate in the narrative, notably in the text’s construction of masculinity and femininity, creating gendered relationships through their ownership, their habitation, and especially their spatiality. The placement of knights and ladies within and without the castle walls, at and below—and even through—their windows, betrays the precarious nature of Malorian gender identity. For women, the castle often becomes a means of enclosure. This narrowing of space can reflect the Arthurian society’s need to restrict females both literally and figuratively. Whether by choice or by force, a woman enclosed in the castle feels the imposed architectural and geographical restrictions. In theory, the walls of the castle define her overlapping (and often small) spheres of movement and influence. At several crucial points late in the Morte, Queen Gwenyver is emphatically enclosed behind and within walls. However, from within this space she wields authority uncharacteristic of females. This paper looks closely at Gwenyver in the Tower of London, where she secures and defends herself from the sieging Mordred. What becomes clear is a surprising conflict between the expectations of an enclosed, female space, and Gwenyver’s ability to maneuver around the gender and space restrictions that she faces. The result is a redefinition of the social space of the castle, one that to a large degree rejects seemingly engrained notions of male hierarchy. The walls do not narrow or limit Gwenyver, but rather enlarge her authority and force a reconsideration of gender roles at this moment in the text.

L’Eau et le merveilleux: Water and the Marvelous in French Arthurian Literature

Katherine Snider, Univ. of Washington–Seattle

In French Arthurian romances of the 12-13th centuries I propose to examine the reciprocal relationship between people and the water they dream.  At this time, in this place, in literature inspired by the characters and/or landscapes of Britain, these authors have not lost the dream of water, and water has not been reduced to the (urban) utility of H20 that Ivan Illich identifies as concurrent with that loss.  The ways in which these people have made water the bearer of meaning reflect concrete realities of water’s effect on the landscape.  Sometimes water determines boundaries.  Bridges and fords across a river are places of challenge and attempted separation between the land of Arthur’s court and “elsewhere”, often explicitly the Other World. Sources of water such as fountains are also the meeting-place of danger, challenger, and/or love—consensual or otherwise, marvelous or otherwise. The marvelous is but one manifestation of the cultural construction of certain peoples’ relationship to water.  In this paper, ecocriticism brings to medieval studies a focus on the non-human world as exemplified by water—which these texts often populate with the marvelous.  Ecocritical theory also valorizes water’s and human’s effect on place.  Texts considered will include: Marie de France’s Lanval, Chrétien de Troyes’ Yvain ou le Chevalier au lion and Lancelot ou le Chevalier de la charrette, the 13th century prose Lancelot du Lac, the Lai de Tyolet, and La Bataille Loquifer.

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Space, Place, and landscape

Fen Remnants outside Crowland, Lincolnshire, England (Justin Noetzel, 2009)

Fen Remnants outside Crowland, Lincolnshire, England (Justin Noetzel, 2009)

*“Landscapes are culture before they are nature; constructs of the imagination projected onto wood and water and rock.” Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory

*“Landscape is first of all an effort of the imagination—a construed way of seeing the world which is distinctive to a people, their culture, and even their anticipated means of encountering the holy… Landscape is always an expectation which is brought to the environment, an interpretative lens placed over an otherwise dull, placeless void.” Belden C. Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred

*The landscape that is constructed in the Old English poetry and Latin Vita of St. Guthlac is a “cultural image of the physical environment that mediates between the human mind and nature.” (Alfred K. Siewers, “Landscapes of Conversion: Guthlac’s Mound and Grendel’s Mere as Expressions of Nation Building”)

Wisdom Poetry

1. What was the function of wisdom poetry for Anglo-Saxon culture, and what does it tell us about cultural beliefs and values? What differences exist in content or style between Maxims I and Maxims II?

2. What metaphors and images are the most prevalent, and why? (Lightness and darkness come to mind, for instance). How do the heroic cultural values compare to the Christian ones, and does one ethos in any way conflict with the other?

[***When we discussed this question, Anthony recommended A Store of Common Sense: Gnomic Theme and Style in Old Icelandic and Old English Wisdom Poetry by Carolyne Larrington. She is a fantastic dinner companion, by the way, because Michael and I had the pleasure to join her, Dr. Acker, and a few others at the London Grill in Kalamazoo a few years ago.]

The Seafarer and The Wanderer?

Norse Wisdom Literature: “Hávamál” from The Poetic Edda

-The poem’s context in Exeter Book with so much other wisdom literature “indicates how attractive to the AS mind was the rehearsal and propagation of received wisdom and knowledge in formulaic utterances, and the exercise of intelligence, often of ingenuity, in probing through the surface form of things to their inner construct and in perceiving in circumstantial detail of events the general precept. Broadly speaking, all this lore is anthropocentric: knowledge—of the phenomena and creatures of the physical world, as of kings and communities of history and the accrued experience of the human condition—is highly prized in so far as it forms a pattern according to which the discerning individual may rough-hew the ends of his own life.” (Bradley 344)

-Section A begins with nature of wisdom poetry and discusses the order of life on earth; Section B (and C) discusses nature, materialism, daily human activities, and proper gender roles; Section C discusses kings, warriors, and poets (and their proper places)

-Cotton Tiberius B MS Context and what precedes and follows this poem: “Menologium defines the process of the liturgical year, by which men may make the purposive orderliness of sacred history the organizing principle of daily living; Maxims II offers general precepts about the divinely ordained laws of the natural world and of the human hierarchy; and the [C-version of the Anglo-Saxon] Chronicle keeps the historical record of the actual vicissitudes of governing and being governed in an imperfect and transient world” (Bradley 512)

-the proper order and place of all things with the formula “X sceal on Y”: the wolf must be/ lives in the grove, the boar must be in the woods, etc.; the thief must go about in the dark weather, the demon/troll/monster must dwell in the fen, alone within the land (“þeof sceal gangan þystrum wederum. þyrs sceal on fenne gewunian ana innan lande.”)

3. What did you find interesting about the less famous and less read Old English poetry (e.g. The Rune Poem, Metrical Charms, and Durham)?

4. What culturally constructed worldview (beliefs, values, landscape, geography, etc.) do these poems illustrate?


Is “is so slippery, cold, / glitters like glass or gems / fashions a floor of frost– / Marvelous thing to behold!”

Eoh: “Yew is a tree that has rough bark / stands firm in the earth / protects the hearth . Rooted deep, it lights up parks.”

Ac feeds pigs who feed humans, and used for ship-construction

Aesc makes good shields

Heroic, Elegiac, and Other Poetry

-Previous Discussion Topics:

1. Poetics of Space and Architecture in “Guthlac A”

2. “Lichoma ond Sawl”: Bodily Conflict in the Poems

3. The Medieval British Fenland-Literature Tradition

4. Exeter Book and Other Anglo-Saxon (Dis)Continuities

Anglo-Saxon Landscapes

  • Metrical Charms (Raffel 216) (find them here)

-“the charms are directed against a wide array of maladies and misfortunes, including fevers, flux, dysentery, nosebleed, wens, chicken-pox, a noxious dwarf, various wounds, the theft of cattle or horses, evil spirits, the loss of a swarm of bees, unfruitful land, and aches in the eyes, ears, stomach, and teeth” (Fulk and Cain 42)

-conceptions of land: Charm for Unfruitful Land involves digging turfs from the edges of your land and mixing them with your cows’ milk, a splinter from each kind of tree on your property, and holy water…

[***Here’s a follow-up question: this poem describes the binary pairs of the world’s creation, including sky and river, waves and land, flood and fields, but the OE for that last pair is “flod wið flode.” Am I crazy, or should that last OE word instead be “folde”?]

  • Durham (D&M 125; Cambridge, Univ. Lib. Ff.1.2)

-“Known through Britain this noble city. / Its steep slopes and stone buildings / are thought a wonder; weirs contain / its fast river; fish of all kinds / thrive here in the thrusting waters. / A great forest has grown up here, / thickets throng with wild creatures; / deer browse in the deep dales” (1a- 8b)

The Fens…

5. Where does mythology, hybridity, and a hybrid landscape fit in this dichotomous world?

[My argument: Delineated coastland is easily understandable, as in the land and sea dichotomy expressed in Maxims I and The Order of the World, but the symbolic fens and the geographic Fens of modern Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire are metaphorically hard to define and don’t fit the simple land and water binary. The Fens muddy the waters in this attempt at distinction (pun intended) and are more three-dimensional space than simple two-dimensional coastline. Here the land and water exist together in a tumultuous and hybridized state—the water of the Fens (both medieval and modern) is often silty and sandy, and therefore hard to navigate, and the land can be so muddy and watery that it is difficult to pass on foot. This land/water hybridity made the landscape hard to pass through physically and difficult to comprehend intellectually, and so the Anglo-Saxon people encoded fens and swamps as a monstrous entity and an isolating force. This claim is demonstrated by the examples below where fens act as an impenetrable boundary, a corruption of the gift of life, a reeking and stagnant plague on the landscape, the location of harmful plant and animal life, and the abode of monsters of demons.]


 6. What the hell is this poem really about? Does it fit better as an anonymous elegy, or a story from Germanic legend that the audience should know, or a riddle with s specific solution? History, myth, or metaphor?

-“Wulf is on an island, I on another. An island of forts [that island is secure], surrounded by swamp. That island belongs to bloody barbarians: Will they receive him, if he comes with force? (“Wulf is on iege, ic on oþerre. / Fæst is þæt eglond, fenne biworpen. / Sindon wælreowe  weras þær on ige; willað hy hine aþecgan, / gif he on þreat cymeð. Ungelice is us” (4a- 7b).

-Alfred describes how water (grace, love, sacredness, and “the drink of life”) is a gift from God that He “pledged for the well-being of His people” (1a- 2b), and Gregory’s text supplies a refill of water for Alfred’s readers

-Water’s source is heaven, and it is drawn from there by “a chosen few / Who make scared books their study” and carefully spread the word among mankind, but, others “pour it freely over the land, / Though care must be taken lest it flow / too loud and fast across the fields, / Transforming them to bogs and fens [fenne]” (19b- 21b)

-“enjoyable for their wit and its poetic expression, are also of critical importance for the insight they afford into the intellectual structure of the As mind. The mentality which can simultaneously engage with the sense of the literal statement and with implicit and ‘truer’ import of the concealed meaning is a mentality alert to symbolism and allegory; and not surprisingly techniques of the riddle may be traced in poetry of other genres where ambiguity and systematic symbolism or allegory are deliberately cultivated” (Bradley 368)

7. How does Beowulf fit into all of this nonsense?

-Grendel is described as “se grimma gæst… mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold, fen ond fæsten” (“the fierce creature, the famed border-wanderer, he who occupied the moors and fens as his stronghold” (102 104)

*“The incredible nature of [the Guthlac stories] is irrelevant to the argument; the spirit which created them is an indisputable fact. They show something of what the barrier of the fens meant in the lives of people at this time. Only familiarity with the region in its most somber aspects can do justice to the fears of these early settlers. Many centuries did not assuage their terror; and at last the horror of the fen passed into tradition—so deeply was it grounded in the Saxon mind. Nor were all the horrors imaginary. They had indeed a very substantial foundation; for the Fenland was a pestilential place ‘of-times clouded with the moist and dark vapors’ [e.g. ague and malaria]” (H. C. Darby, The Medieval Fenland)

8. What other Landscapes or spaces are especially noteworthy in the Anglo-Saxon World (e.g. in The Wife’s Lament)? Where else is this kind of cultural construction of a landscape present? What about the later medieval world, or areas other than England?

[***This question guided much of our conversation. Amanda brought up the crumbling Roman stone- and earthworks that are being reclaimed by nature in The Ruin, and Thomas wondered how fens figure in gothic literature. Anthony added two examples of hybridized culturally constructed –scapes (Eolus’ mixed sky and sea in The Aeneid, and Prospero’s chaotic land and sea storm in The Tempest) and mentioned a tantalizing detail from The Brut that involved ponds, fish, and elves. Beth compared the Fens to the somewhat analogous otherworldly mist in Irish mythology, which blurs that land/ sea differentiations, and we also discussed peat bogs and coasts and their respective preservational (e.g. Seamus Heaney) and liminal powers. Nicely done, y’all—nicely done.]


Select Bibliography [***slightly enhanced from the paper handout]

Acker, Paul. Revising Oral Theory: Formulaic Composition in Old English and Old Icelandic Verse. New York: Garland, 1998. Print.

Aertsen, Henk. “Wulf and Eadwacer: A Woman’s Cri de Coeur—For Whom? For What?” Companion to Old English Poetry. Ed. Henk Aertsen abd Rolf H. Bremmer, Jr. Amsterdam: VU U P, 1994: 119-144. Print.

Daniëlli, Sonja. “Wulf, Min Wulf: An Eclectic Analysis of the Wolf-Man.” Neophilologus 91 (2007): 505–524. Print.

Delanty, Greg and Michael Matto, Ed. The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation. New York: W. W. Norton, 2011. Print.

Desmond, Marilynn. “Voice of Exile: Feminist Literary History and the Anonymous Anglo-Saxon Elegy.” Critical Inquiry 16.3 (1990): 572-590. Print.

DiNapoli, Robert. “The Heart of the Visionary Experience: The Order of the World and its Place in the Old English Canon.” English Studies 79.2 (1998): 97-108. Print.

Fulk, R. D. and Christopher M. Cain. A History of Old English Literature. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005. Print.

Howes, Laura L., Ed. Place, Space, and Landscape in Medieval Narrative. Knoxville: U Tennessee P, 2007. Print.

Howlett, David Robert. “The Gnomic Collection of Verse in the Exeter Book.” Philological Review 34.2 (2008): 51-78. Print.

Jolly, Karen. “Father God and Mother Earth: Nature-Mysticism in the Anglo-Saxon World.” The Medieval World of Nature. Ed. Joyce E. Salisbury. New York: Garland, 1993: 221- 252. Print.

Klinck, Anne L. The Old English Elegies: A Critical Edition and Genre Study. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s U P, 1992. Print.

Kries, Susanne. “Danish Rivalry and the Mutilation of Alfred in the Eleventh-Century Chronicle Poem The Death of Alfred.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 104.1 (2005): 31-53. Print.

Lees, Clare A. and Gillian R. Overing, Ed.  A Place to Believe In: Locating Medieval Landscapes. University Park, Pennsylvania: Penn State UP, 2006. Print.

North, Richard. “Metre and Meaning in Wulf and Eadwacer: Signý Reconsidered.” Loyal Letters: Studies on Mediaeval Alliterative Poetry & Prose. Ed. L. A. J. R. Houwen and A. A. MacDonald. Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 1994: 29- 54. Print.

O’Camb, Brian. “Bishop Æthelwold and the Shaping of the Old English Exeter Maxims.” English Studies 90.3 (2009): 253-273. Print.

Overing, Gillian R. and Marijane Osborn. Landscape of Desire: Partial Stories of the Medieval

Scandinavian World. Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1994. Print.

Park, Yoon-hee. “The Meaning of the Cotton “Wulf” Maxim in the Context of Anglo-Saxon Popular Thought and Culture.” Medieval and Early Modern English Studies 16.2 (2008): 247- 263. Print.

Raffel, Burton, Ed. Poems and Prose from the Old English. New Haven: Yale U P, 1998. Print.

Shippey, T. A. “The Wanderer and The Seafarer a Wisdom Poetry.” Companion to Old English Poetry. Ed. Henk Aertsen abd Rolf H. Bremmer, Jr. Amsterdam: VU U P, 1994: 145-158. Print.

Sorrell, Paul. “Oaks, Ships, Riddles and the Old English Rune Poem.” Anglo-Saxon England 19 (1990): 103- 116. Print.

Stanley, E. G. “Wolf, My Wolf!” Old English and New: Studies in Language and Linguistics in Honor of Frederic G. Cassidy. New York: Garland, 1992: 46- 62. Print.

Tasioulas, J. A. “The Mother’s Lament: Wulf and Eadwacer Reconsidered.” Medium Aevum 65.1 (1996): 1- 18. Print.

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Wehlau, Ruth. “Rumination and Re-Creation: Poetic Instruction in The Order of the World.” Florilegium 13 (1994: 65- 77. Print.

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Disarmingly delightful, Smith of Wootton Major by J.R.R. Tolkien packs about as much literary punch as his more widely known Hobbit-based works. Smith is as dense with symbolism and interwoven with Tolkien’s deep seated convictions about faerie, craft, the metaphysical, as it is with his uneasiness about where one fits into a world limited by belief and, uncomfortably, luck. Perhaps fate fits better than luck though, and one wonders how much applicability can be found in such a personal (even, in some ways, exclusivistic) work.

I personally find Smith beautiful for a number of reasons, some of which we brought up in our discussion of the work this week:

1. The family dynamic resonates most powerfully with me. How is the reader to understand the relationship Smith has with his family? When Smith returns from his final wanderings in the land of Faerie, he expresses regret, explicitly and implicitly, at being absent from his wife and children for so long. It is striking to observe that his son, a young man at this point (old enough to oversee the work of his father’s smithy), holds no animosity at his father; indeed the family appears charitably to understand Smith’s long absences. What are we to make of this?

2. Tolkien’s short story, “Leaf by Niggle,” employs the figure of the artist to explore the tension between creative genius and intersocial responsibility (as I read it)–a fitting choice. Smith, on the other hand, elevates the profession of cooking to a priviledged position: It is through the cook’s baking that the gift of creativity is passed to Smith (and others). Certainly, in light of Tolkien’s devout Catholicism, there are eucharistic undertones in this, but how many facets of it does the narrative display?

3. (And I wasn’t aware of this until we compared editions of Smith with each other during the discussion) There may some interpretive difficulties which invite codicological (?) scrutiny: Does Smith encounter “eleven” (Del Rey edition) or “elven” (from Tales from Perilous Realms) mariners, before whom he collapses and who pass over his fallen body?

In the Fall of 2010 I taught Smith in my Introduction to Short Fiction course, and my students had very strong reactions (positively and negatively) to the story; so I include here the discussion points I used for the three days we spent studying and discussing it (page numbers are from the Del Rey edition, which includes Farmer Giles of Ham).

  • How do you think we’re to relate to the town of Wootton Major (cf. 9)?
  • Why kitchen?
  • What about mention of invitation mistakes (10)?
  • What of the change of the Master Cook after his holiday, or his up and leaving in general (11-12)?
  • What about Nokes’ lack of knowledge concerning children’s tastes (14)?
  • What is the significance of memory (15, 26)?
  • How should we understand Nokes’ interactions with Alf Prentice?
  • How do you read the star coming to the boy, Smithson, and its ultimate unveiling and coming to rest on his forehead (21-22)?
  • What about the extra quality of beauty added to the usefulness of Smith’s creations, or hi desire to create simply for delight (23)?
  • Why is Faery called a “perilous country” (24)?
  • How does the tone change, and what of the different episodes in Faery (26-33)?
  • Does the narrative seem deeply personal?
  • What of the proper names in the story?
  • Why a queen without throne or crown (36)?
  • Why is Smith ashamed at the memory of Nokes’ fairy figure on the cake (37-8)?
  • What of the emphasis on sorrow (cf. 38)?
  • Why do you think there is only one star (cf. 41)?
  • What of the idea that Rider had arranged for Alf to give Smith the star, but that Nokes thwarted their carrying it out (44)?
  • What do you think of the theme of not-knowing (44-45)?
  • Edith Tolkien is the dancing woman!
  • What about the oldness of the “new” or the newness of old tradition (45)?
  • What do you make of Smith’s inability to see and Alf’s willingness to help (46)?
  • How are family ties viewed (46)?
  • How about Alf’s willingness to relent (47)?
  • Interesting at how freely precious things are held (cf. 49).
  • Why is the shadow the truth (50)?
  • How should one understand Nokes’ memory (50-53)?
  • With respect to Nokes, Tolkien doesn’t seem to be saying people like that are obstinate, but that those who are obstinate become as Nokes was.
  • What about the disposition of Alf to Nokes and Nokes to Alf (54-57)?
  • Why do you think Tolkien gives Nokes the last word (58-59)?
  • Concerning the matter of “determinism” it is interesting that Tolkien doesn’t present it in a deterministic way; in fact he shows how free will acts of its own accord, and that what is determined isn’t affected by it (cf. Then Ilúvatar spoke, and he said: ‘Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.’ [5]).
  • What about the similarity between the endings of this and LotR? Tolkien doesn’t think that the most wonderful things happen in this world, but he thinks that comfort and consolation are very important.

Please feel at liberty to offer possible answers to these points, or to pose points of your own.


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