Hypothetical decision time

You’re writing an edition of a poem from the late 1170s. There are a number of partial and complete manuscripts out there. Some of these include:

A. An early-to-mid 13th century MS in a nice Ile de Paris dialect, vr. famous, containing all the poems by this author plus some others. Provenance: from the same region as the poet.
B. a couple of other early-to mid 13th c. MSS in regional dialects
C. an early 13th c. MS, quite damaged in places
D. some mid-to-late 13th c. MSS
E. a mid-to-late 13th c. MS put together by two alternating scribes; neither scribes nor MS come from the same region as the poet.

Which of these would you want to base your edition on? If you picked E, you are well on your way to becoming a well-known French manuscript scholar! Bonus points if you give no real explanation for your choice, and omit certain lines found in *all* the early-to-mid 13th c. MSS.

My intention is to go bouncing about France (well, ok, Paris and Tours) to look at a handful of these MSS. I expect my conclusion will be “yup, the lines are there in the early ones!” Cutting-edge research, folks.

Also, I take it as a personal affront that the Bodleian MS is missing the entire section. Not because it’s a particularly useful MS (it’s not), but because I wish to chase down a friend who’s being frighteningly clever at something scientific in Oxford, and would’ve liked a good academic excuse to go there.

D’you reckon the BL would let me see a Middle English MS that’s not particularly related to my thesis but is related to my Leeds paper (I think I won’t get to see it until AFTER Leeds, but let’s not mind that)? I reckon I can get a letter from my director saying I’m very clever and have valid research interests.

ED: If you were editing the sole MS of Ywain and Gawain would you

A: Try to find out if it’s possible to pin down the French MS used by the redactor, and comment on whether or not you had succeeded in finding anything useful?
B: Not say anything about how a northern English poet in the 14th century got hold of a 12thc. French poem.

If B, congratulations, you’re Maldwin Mills! Maybe someone else has done the legwork on this. I should find out. Maybe we just don’t have any Chretien MSS known have been in England at the right time?


4 Responses to “Hypothetical decision time”

  1. Jonathan Jarrett Says:

    Well, if you can come up with even the faintest excuse for an Oxford visit, I would be happy to do the wine and dine bit and there are also expat Aussie medieval lit people here whom you might like to meet. As to the BL, I would have thought they would be amenable, but yes, get that letter, and secondly, write ahead now so you’ll know if there’s anything else they might want, or if the manuscript’s being conserved or something. A friend of mine once made a trip to Cherbourg to look at a manuscript to find it had been moved to Paris a decade before. We can all learn from her misfortune.

    • highlyeccentric Says:

      … Duly noted! I just wrote a very rusty email to some poor librarian in Tours who, one hopes, will be able to decode enough of my French to know that I want to see MS 942. And hopefully s/he will say “YES” and not “no, we posted it to timbuktu”.

  2. Lawrence Says:

    Hi Amy, glad to see you’ve got the editing bug! Looking forward to hearing what you make of all the editorial theory out there. Re issue 1 above, the crucial question is what you mean by “base your edition on”–is this a “best text” edition (ick!), or an eclectic copy-text edition (yay!)? or something different? what are the driving questions being addressed by the edition?
    Re the BL, it’s not at all a question of what they’d let you do. They have a transparent process for getting a reader’s ticket and it’s all on the webpage. If your MSS are “select” then you would definitely need a letter of introduction. It might be harder, though, for a postgrad to get permission even with that letter. Good luck!! Hope to see you soon; I’m back in town now. LW

  3. highlyeccentric Says:

    Hey Lawrence – it’s not one of the “single manuscript” editions, no. It’s a run-of-the-mill parallel text edition, and as far as I can tell its primary purpose is to make the text available to French speakers learning Old French. I assume that Guiot hasn’t been used as the base MS because there’s already an edition out there based on the Guiot MS. So I should probably get hold of that edition… This particular series of editions is very useful, but low on… uhm… explaining reasons? It’s a series which also publishes early modern and modern French classics – perhaps the closest English equivalent would be Vintage Classics?

    I’m running away next week, so I don’t think I’ll see you until I get back, unfortunately. I’ve had, erm, not the greatest of semesters health-wise or productivity wise, so there’s nothing exciting to say. :s I do want to read your chapter on sex hospitality, though!

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