Conceptualizing Medieval Book Collections
French Studies: a quarterly review
Oxford University Press (OUP)
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Oxford University Press via the DOI in this record.
Reason for embargo
This article argues for a conceptual distinction between the practices and ideologies of institutional learning on the one hand (whose natural vehicle was Latin, the language of formal education) and those of a vernacular written culture that both challenges and models itself on the former. The garden, used as a figure for the ideal library by Richard de Fournival in the thirteenth century, creates order through the institutionalization of knowledge and the exclusion of undesirable elements. By contrast, the forest is deployed by medieval and modern thinkers to embody a wild, unsorted chaos apparently inimical to learning. And yet the forest in medieval literature functions as a margin always in contact with civilization, whose illicit danger is matched by its attractiveness as a space for unplanned encounters and reconfigurations of hierarchy and authority. As I demonstrate, an analogous concern with the potential for book collections to lead readers to unexpected discoveries is a recurrent theme of vernacular authors from Benoît de Sainte-Maure to Chaucer. This conceptual approach to the function and cultural value of medieval libraries offers a supplementary perspective to more traditional ‘book archaeology’, one which may be especially fruitful for making sense of the often fragmentary and vague records of private ownership.
First published online: February 24, 2016
Place of publication