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Book Review


Richard Utz, Chaucer and the Discourse of German Philology: A History of Reception and an Annotated Bibliography of Studies 1793-1948

Brepols Publishers: Turnhout, Belgium, 2002. 446 pp. ISBN 2503510868. Published as Volume 3 in the series Making the Middle Ages from The Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Sydney, Australia

As the title indicates, Richard Utz has several aims in this welcome book: an account of mainly nineteenth- and early twentieth-century German scholarship on Chaucer and in medieval English studies generally; a casting of his story in some of the diction of late twentieth-century literary theory (e.g. discourse, hegemony, othering, colonizing, discursive practice); and an annotated introduction of hundreds of studies and reviews produced between 1793 and 1948, that year seeing the appearance of Curtius' monumental Europaische Literatur und Lateinisches Mittelalter.

Simply for its overview of German scholarship on Chaucer, this book is invaluable, a mother-lode of information and a reminder to many of us that Old and Middle English scholarship as we learned it forty or more years ago is deeply indebted to nineteenth-century German academics and school teachers (even for the first categorizations of language history into old, middle, and modern). Those of us who specialize beyond Chaucer in Beowulf studies, of course, are always aware of nearly permanent German contributions: consider simply the names Zupitza, Sievers, Liebermann and Klaeber. My Chaucer professor, Robert O. Payne, studied with Kemp Malone at Johns Hopkins, the first American University to set up the study of language and literature along German lines. Payne introduced his students to Chaucer scholarship in a comprehensive way; while we read through a bibliography dominated by twentieth-century American and British critics, we were aware of older work, especially ten Brink's, and of some twentieth-century German critics such as Wolfgang Clemen, along with Curtius certainly. However, we were not encouraged to delve into nineteenth-century philology because Payne was not, as he often said, "textual." He accepted the line of great textual work that produced editions of Chaucer's poetry and prose beginning with Skeat, going through Manly and Rickert, and bringing us to F. N. Robinson's 1933 edition of the Works.

From the perspective of mid twentieth-century Chaucer studies in America, German scholarship on the whole no longer seems to offer much: it is narrowly philological, not literary critical; and the best modern editions have an Anglo-American lineage. But half a century earlier the study of early English rests solidly on German productions: the major journals exclusively devoted are German (Anglia and Englische Studien); there is Sievers' work on Old English half-line types; the best Middle English dictionaries are by Germans; and so on (see Utz quoting A.S. Napier, 66-67). What happened? As Utz shows us, politics and World War separated Anglo-American scholarship from German, especially in this country, and textual editing eventually flourished where access to manuscripts remained open, in England and in the United States (the Ellesmere manuscript moves to California). Minor themes of nationalistic pride and competition appear in the story also, as Utz presents these matters, with such English scholars as Sweet thinking of German scholars as given to 'parasite philology' while those scholars in turn think of English work as amateurish, enthusiastic, even at times unsound. This combative tone, although not universal, marks much of the jostling for scholarly pride of place and influence in the world of English studies, taking in American efforts as well (often patronizingly).

So, apart from its myriad details about nineteenth-century scholarly battle, what beyond the already stated is this book's contribution to now fairly settled opinion in America that German scholarship in the philological tradition is dead history, the fruits of which have been taken up in Anglo-American text editing so completely that in 1984 Paul Ruggiers could simply overlook German textual and historical scholarship? Utz would have us back up and consider the Germans again, especially one German: John Koch, school teacher. Beginning in 1877 Koch published a careful comparison of the temple of Venus passages in the Teseida, The Knight's Tale and The Parliament of Fowles. According to Utz, Koch became an astoundingly prolific reviewer of Chauceriana, as well as working on such matters as the authenticity of the Romaunt of the Rose, the dating of Anelida and Arcite and Chaucer's debts to Roman authors (163). His textual contributions include work on all accessible, unprinted manuscripts of the Pardoner's Prologue and Tale for the Chaucer Society, which forms the basis for his 1902 critical edition of that tale. In 1915 he published an edition of the Canterbury Tales, using the Ellesmere and Furnivall's six-text edition along with twelve other manuscripts. The brief is persuasive enough that one would want to add John Koch to the honor roll of great Chaucer editors. This much we can be grateful for as Utz brings the impressive world of nineteenth-century German scholarship to our attention. To know that history is to know the origins of our own philological tools, the derivations of our texts from their manuscript provenance, and the groundwork for our knowledge of the grammar and history of early English dialects. We need professionally to give the Germans their due. And now we also have John Koch saved from near oblivion.

Chaucer and the Discourse of German Philology is a rich study; it teaches one something new at each turn of the page. This reviewer, however, finds the "discourse" angle a little thin, although Utz probably embarks on it because he wants to operate in the world of contemporary theory; he doesn't want his historical subject falling on uncomprehending ears. Also, a weakly framed view of philology as Plato's daughter is radically confused. Whatever anyone may have thought, the differences between Plato's ontology and ten Brink's scientism are foundational. Plato's daughter is idea or form participating with matter, more the child of myth than the originating, particular lexical form or manuscript composition ten Brink sought. But those cavils aside, I am grateful for Utz's work. His is an invaluable contribution to our knowledge of the history of medieval English studies.

John M. Hill












Updated 12/24/03