Manuscripts: a brief thought on autoethnography

I’ve been given Christopher de Hamel’s beauty of a book, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts for Christmas, and today I sat in bed listening to de Hamel and Andrew Marr enthusing about the more notable MSS de Hamel discusses.

The greater part of me is enthralled by the book, by the challenge of a not insignificant work, and by coming back to something I used to know well. Part of me, however, is a little wistful: I have had late medieval Books of Hours, chant books, portiforia in my hands, known or guessed their provenance, struggled with their handwriting.  It was a world I loved, playing M R James as I looked at the Bridgettines of Syon Abbey-  although I knew it a bit even at the time, I was without the obsessive commitment needed for the role. I describe myself as a “lapsed medievalist,” and I guess this will have to do.

So now, for the most part, I am the kid outside the sweet shop, looking at the barley sugars through the window…

…with the exception of the work on Gawain that’s come my way this year. I find that the past stuff on late medieval literature and spirituality is carrying me a long way into the sentient landscape project, picking up the crumbs that Alan Garner has dropped with a sharper eye than I would have done if I had not had those years of experience with the Syon MSS.

A final thought (for now) on making sense of my stumbling study: the way I looked at “my” manuscript (MS Rawl D 403) [when I finally packed away the reproduction I have and got on with training to be a teacher] was that I might come back to it. However, I wonder if that confuses scholarship in its widest sense with doctoral study, which is a a part of the scholarly project. Maybe the Liber Mortis et Vite never really left me; maybe I can dredge from those twenty-something enthusiasms skills and understanding I can still use. I used to dream in Syon; now I belong as much to the myths of quest and learning from my mistakes that are in Boneland, and Ludchurch. It feels all about synthesis of these different parts tonight.

Maybe a thought for my study in 2017…


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