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Jenni Nuttall / David Watt (eds.): Thomas Hoccleve. New Approaches, Woodbridge / Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer 2022, XIII + 254 S., 4 Farb-, 1 s/w-Abb., ISBN 978-1-84384-642-0, GBP 65,00
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Rezension von:
Rebecca Menmuir
Queen Mary University, London
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Ralf L├╝tzelschwab
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Rebecca Menmuir: Rezension von: Jenni Nuttall / David Watt (eds.): Thomas Hoccleve. New Approaches, Woodbridge / Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer 2022, in: sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 2 [15.02.2024], URL:

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Jenni Nuttall / David Watt (eds.): Thomas Hoccleve

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The current popularity of Thomas Hoccleve, in the classroom and in scholarship of the Middle Ages, is one of the great rehabilitative success stories of medieval literature. Long maligned as a "feeble writer" by Thomas Warten in 1770 (11), a "weak" and "sensitive" man by Frederick J. Furnivall at the end of the nineteenth century (14), and a "bungler" by Malcolm Richardson as recently as 1986 (14), Hoccleve has emerged as one of the most compelling medieval English authors for the twenty-first century. His near-contemporaneity with and evident interest in Chaucer, his focus on mental health issues, and his sharp depictions of everyday life have been popular topics of discussion, and remain so in the volume at hand. Refreshingly, the editors of the volume have advised their contributors to avoid the "well-worn path" (14) of reciting the historic criticism with which this review began. Instead, the volume demonstrates an impressive range of new approaches to studying Hoccleve, from pausing on a single metrical foot (Chapter 1) to pacing with Hoccleve's physical feet across his entire corpus (Chapter 9). As recent scholarship has homed in on the palaeographical and biographical [1], this volume is an excellent reminder of the rich and varied research being undertaken across the breadth of Hoccleve studies.

The volume's eleven chapters are divided into three parts: "I. Form in Context", "II. Reading Life", and "III. Writing Life". Of these sections, only Part I feels sufficiently coherent in its tight focus on Hoccleve's form. Parts II and III are more loosely-connected, and are better read as comprising individual chapters than studies connected by their section framing. Chapter 9 (Helen M. Hickey), for instance, bears little relation to the other chapters in Part III, and instead ought to have formed a section with Chapters 6 (Spencer Strub) and 7 (Stephanie Trigg), since all three explore embodiment, emotions, and the "affective turn" in later medieval literature. Chapters 10 (Ruen-chuan Ma) and 11 (Sebastian J. Langdell) form a clear and distinct conclusion to the volume, focusing as they do on curating legacies. With this being said, the following explores three major themes which run throughout the entire collection.

The volume is keen to dispel the notion of Hoccleve as a perpetually isolated figure. The Introduction (Jenni Nuttall and David Watt) paints a vivid portrait of a Hoccleve connected to the world, a writer who gives us "real" and quotidian medieval London, and whose modern appeal is heightened because of this. Hoccleve's connection with his world is followed through in Laurie Atkinson's argument (in Chapter 4) that Hoccleve is more interested in positioning his work against contemporary politics and religious debates than against other authors; in the lingering image of Hoccleve and his colleagues in Christmas robes, from a document explored by Taylor Cowdery (in Chapter 8); or by Hoccleve pounding the London pavement in Helen M. Hickey's essay (Chapter 9). In Chapter 2, A. Arwen Taylor makes a powerful argument for Hoccleve as connected even in the midst of his isolation in the Series, shaped by "conversational currents" (48) at the historic and literary level. R. D. Perry relatedly views the Series as a "vision of communal authorship" (Chapter 3, 82), while Ruen-chuan Ma and Sebastian J. Langdell (Chapters 10 and 11) present a Hoccleve keenly aware of how his works would be transmitted, peering outwards as well as displaying that inward scrutiny which we so associate with Hoccleve.

Several contributions to the collection also make Hoccleve's connections with his literary contemporaries and poetic heritage clear. Hoccleve seems unlikely to emerge from Chaucer's long shadow in criticism, but a major strength of many essays here is that the affiliation illuminates Hoccleve and his works in new and interesting ways. In Chapter 1, Nicholas Myklebust asks how to make sense of an author like Hoccleve, who "never risks imitation" (41) and persists in metrical idiosyncrasy; Laurie Atkinson goes further (Chapter 4), arguing that Hoccleve's refusal to imitate Chaucer is a pointed rejection. Contributions such as Michelle Ripplinger's (Chapter 5) and Ruen-chuan Ma's (Chapter 10) present more consonance between the two, with Ripplinger illustrating the complex relationship between Chaucer and Hoccleve, alongside Ovid, Christine de Pizan, and the "unanticipated woman reader" (105). In a striking example from Ma's essay, a "late fifteenth-century reader reacts angrily to the excision of a remarkable Chaucer portrait" in a manuscript (221). "Summe furyous foole" (221), as the reader exclaims, has cut it out, and Ma skilfully links the outburst to Hoccleve's own treatments of seeing and reading Chaucer.

The heart of this volume, reflecting Hoccleve studies in general, is undoubtedly the Series, not least since all of Part II's chapters focus on the Series. However, the volume explores the Hocclevean corpus beyond the Series in exciting and fresh ways, as well as setting the Series in conversation with other works. In this respect Taylor Cowdery's accessible and thought-provoking chapter on Hoccleve's Formulary is the standout contribution of the collection. Cowdery expertly describes the "cross-pollination" (183) of the Formulary with Hoccleve's life and poetry, chiming with Sebastian J. Langdell's methodology of thinking through Hoccleve's minor and major poetry in Chapter 11 (another important expansion of Hoccleve's corpus for the casual reader or student).

The Introduction informs the reader that we must "become comfortable with a certain amount of ongoing uncertainty and dissonance" (6), and many of the chapters in this volume tackle incoherence, dissonance, and inconsistency in Hoccleve head on. Some argue that finding coherence in Hoccleve is achievable when the problem is approached from a different angle. Nicholas Myklebust perceptively notes that Hoccleve's idiosyncratic metre offers both "too little" and "too much" (25), and in response places the metre in Hoccleve's historical context; elsewhere R. D. Perry searches for the "formal organising principle" of Hoccleve (Chapter 3). Other essays present inconsistencies as part of Hoccleve's modus operandi, as is the case in Chapter 7, where Stephanie Trigg demonstrates that Death is presented in varying, inconsistent ways, but those presentations are nonetheless illuminative. This volume relishes the knotty, unsolvable questions present in Hoccleve.

Ultimately, Thomas Hoccleve: New Approaches succeeds in offering genuinely new approaches to Hoccleve's life and works. The study of Hoccleve is flourishing, particularly with the activities of the International Hoccleve Society, and this is a sophisticated set of essays which considerably furthers the field.


[1] See, for instance, Misty Schieberle: A New Hoccleve Literary Manuscript: The Trilingual Miscellany in London, British Library, MS Harley 219, in: The Review of English Studies 70.297 (2019), 799-822; and Sebastian Sobecki: Gens sans argent: A New Holograph Manuscript by Thomas Hoccleve, in: The Library 25.2 (forthcoming at the time of writing).

Rebecca Menmuir