Journal of Romance Studies

The French of England: the Compileison, Ancrene Wisse, and the idea of Anglo-Norman

Journal of Romance Studies (2004), 4, (3), 35–59.

Abstract

This article considers the place of Anglo-Norman in nineteenth- and twentieth-century scholarship as caught between two academic solitudes: that of a France mainly interested in a few works that could be assigned high cultural prestige as part of the canon of medieval French literature; and that of an England for the most part concerned to ignore or denigrate Anglo-Norman writing in favour of the (for much of the high Middle Ages more exiguous) tradition of writings in Middle English. As a test case of the benefit of moving beyond nationalizing narratives, the article uses a thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman Compileison. This work is intimately related to an early Middle English guide for recluses, Ancrene Wisse, which played a prominent role in J. R. R. Tolkien’s construction of the history of English. The Compileison emerges as a sophisticated rethinking of Ancrene Wisse with the capacity to upset many of our standard notions of the role of Anglo-Norman in early English culture and of the significance of the French of England in the literatures and languages of ‘Romania’.

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Watson, Nicholas

Wogan-Browne, Jocelyn