Julian and the Cloud, unplugged

Following Maggie Ross’s challenge to read the mystics in their original, untranslated texts, I thought I’d highlight some of the editions of both Julian of Norwich’s text and The Cloud of Unknowing that can be acquired in the original (or slightly modernized) form. Yesterday I posted a query to Maggie’s blog to get a sense of which of these texts she would recommend, and the ones she endorses I’ve set in bold type. So, check these books out…

The options are greater with Julian’s text. First there is the Norton Critical Edition of the Showings of Julian of Norwich, edited by Denise Baker. It’s attractively priced and features the kind of notes and supplemental material that can be found in any NCE title. If you’d rather have a slighly modernized version of the text, consider the University of Exeter Press edition of A Revelation of Love edited by Marion Glasscoe. This is the edition that Maggie Ross recommends, saying “None of the others can touch it.” As for other available editions, the “TEAMS Middle English Text Series” from Western Michigan University’s Medieval Institute Publications includes The Shewings of Julian of Norwich, edited by Georgia R. Crampton. If you want to get a bit geekier, the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies published a two volume edition (featuring both the “short” and “long” texts) of A Book of Showings to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich, edited by Edmond Colledge, O.S.A. and James Walsh, S. J. It’s out of print but worth tracking down. And finally, if you really want to spend some money, there’s Showing of Love: Extant Texts and Translation, edited by Sister Anna Maria Reynolds, C.P. and Julia Bolton Holloway and published in Italy by Edizioni del Galluzzo. What’s neat about this book is that you get transcriptions of all four of the major manuscripts of Julian’s text — but there’s also translations of three of those manuscripts, so if you get this book, resist the temptation to just read the translation!

The Cloud of Unknowing, to the best of my knowledge, has fewer editions in the Middle English readily available, but I am aware of two options: the “TEAMS Middle English Text Series” includes an edition of  The Cloud of Unknowing edited by Patrick J. Gallacher; while the Early English Text Society has released an edition of The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counselling edited by Phyllis Hodgson (Oxford University Press). Maggie Ross considers the Hodgson edition to be the “benchmark” and notes that “You can’t go wrong with EETS texts.” Unfortunately, the EETS edition is expensive; but if you want to avoid spending money altogether, you can access the Gallacher edition online at the University of Rochester’s website.

Does anyone know of any other editions?

Finally, if you are as weak in your Middle English as I am, you’ll probably want a Middle English Dictionary as well. Not sure which one to recommend — again, any suggestions from out there in blog-reader-land?

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  1. Carl, I find the following edition of Julian’s writings very, very helpful: Watson, Nicholas and Jacqueline Jenkins, eds. The Writings of Julian of Norwich: A Vision Showed to a Devout Women and a Revelation of Love. Let me excerpt the scholarly review by Michael Calabrese in the July, 2007 issue of The Medieval Review: the full review is available online.
    Nicholas Watson and Jacqueline Jenkins have broken ground in the study of Julian with a new kind of edition and, in fact, a new kind of reading experience in Middle English literature. An EETS edition provides a taxonomy of manuscripts, text, and language without reading aids and thus is inaccessible for most students and general readers; TEAMS editions are designed for students but are of less use to scholars doing advanced work; A Penguin Classics translation of Middle English prose, despite the best efforts of translators, can be little more than a paraphrase of the original. All these formats have their roles and virtues, but in this edition of Julian, we have fresh textual scholarship, uncompromising sensitivity to editorial issues, audience friendly (but weighty) supplementary materials, and a rich, majestic presentation of the text all in one. The targeted audience is wide, as the edition tries “to make possible the serious reading and study of [Julian's] thought no translation can provide and to do so not only for students and scholars of Middle English but for those with little or no previous experience with the language” (ix). So our editors, taking seriously Julian’s own desire to address her evenchristen, seek to make accessible the actual words of the author for our modern, academic equivalent of Julian’s “all.” But they are not popularizing her, in the negative sense of that term; they make no scholarly compromises at all, and the edition is a thoughtful triumph, a mature work that displays profound respect for Julian and for its own readers throughout time.
    The authors correctly notice that textual access and the anthologizing impulses of our field have made our common embrace of Julian fragmented and uneven, as we encounter her mainly in “excerpt and translation” (24). A comparison of formats, ME, ME modernized, and translation (see 24 ff.) reveals how much is missed when one adapts the text because Julian “uses language full of gesture, motion, and evocations of the material; evocations too rich to be paraphrased and too integral to her ideas to be construed as imagery” (25). Thus, this edition, wisely as I see it, “cannot take the easy route of excessive modernization, or even that of modern translation in parallel with a Middle English text.” The editors then discuss the vernacularity of the work and its relation to Latin learning, a “source of ideas, doctrine, words, and authority” (26); because the “terms and structures” of Julian’s work are so informed by the Latin, her prose “straddl[es] two linguistic worlds” so that “even the earliest readers of the works, educated or not, must have found them in some respects alien and in many respects difficult” (27). It is impossible to explain here all the insights and guidance provided in this compelling introduction, but these remarks about vernacularity are representative of the wealth of information it provides as a prologue to reading the Vision and Revelation themselves. The editors here also trace clearly the critical history of Julian and provide ample bibliography.
    Concerning editorial theory, the editors note that “while A Vision,” the shorter, earlier text, “must be edited more or less at it stands in the Additional manuscript, in the case of The Revelation,” the later, expanded version of A Vision existing in multiple witnesses, “a synthetic approach to the manuscript evidence results in a more intellectually sophisticated representation of the text than the choice of either complete manuscript” (see pp. 10ff. on the textual situation). They are acutely aware of the risks and controversies of “linguistic hybridity” and other pitfalls that come when making a synthetic edition (Kane is duly referenced), but the goal of a “clearer, more consistent text” (30) and the editors’ embrace of a certain inevitable “distance” and of the “inevitable incompleteness of the attempt to think across that distance” (31) embolden them to proceed. If I understand rightly, they mean to say that any attempt to produce Julian in “definitive form” is itself artificial and plagued by an inevitable distance and difficulty in comprehending her writings, which are themselves “an incomplete attempt to think across a distance” (31). In this light, no authenticity, no magical presence of the text is lost in making a synthetic edition, as long as the editorial process is “self-conscious about its own agenda” and also “transparent, giving the readers the means to test, and perhaps improve on, its hypothesis” (31). The editors then begin a long discussion of their editorial principles; ………I do not think that editing processes and the relevance of these processes have ever been rendered so accessibly and clearly in a Middle English edition. The series of questions given here, including the simple and stark “What is the relationship between A Vision and A Revelation,” reflect a bold new perspective on editorial scholarship, drawing it out of the shadows and making it a prominent part of the reader’s engagement with the text. The entire volume here, especially the actual presentation of the texts, unfolds and makes nakedly apparent the work and choices of an editor, bridging many of the distances (those that can be bridged) we commonly experience in encountering a Middle English text, whether it has been translated, modernized or edited.
    Put another way, the editors welcome the readers, from all the targeted levels–scholar to undergraduate–into the complex adventure of editing, of shaping historical witnesses into a modern text. It is not easy to put descriptions of dialect and variants into friendly critical prose, but the editors work hard to offer the information step by step and with judicious measure, so that non-editors will know what is a stake in deciding what reading to print and also when deciding how physically to represent in print the distinctions between the manuscripts and between the major versions as well. The fortunate reader will soon know all about things like “independent textual traditions” “archetypes” “scribal revision” “eyeskip” (no arcane Greek terms employed), and “base manuscript.” This is Sidney’s medicine of cherries; the sweetness of the presentation distracts us from the fact that we are learning the most technical, and thus traditionally dull and dry, aspects of textual editing. All this while, the editors are conducting their argument defending the creation of a hybrid text, grounded in the appeal of combining various complementary features (authentic dialect, completeness of certain sections of the text, etc.) from the different witnesses, features not extant in any one of them. A discussion of emendation based on “internal coherence” follows, and, in fact, in all that they do, the editors focus on Julian’s writings as serious theology, laboring to ensure that they preserve and convey it as such: “if this edition does no more than focus a new intensity of attention on what, phrase by phrase and sentence by sentence, A Vision and A Revelation set out to mean, it will have served a useful purpose” (43). An extended explanation of the textual format and guide to its use follows, preparing the reader for the nearly 400 pages of dense text and notes. Medieval orthography is chaotic and deeply idiosyncratic to scribes (especially if two of them are from the 17th century), so the elaborate standardization of spelling is welcomed: “loove” is printed as “love”; “praied” as “prayed”; “eende” as “end” for example (see 43 ff. for the extended discussion of “Spelling”). If phonology, and thus the important pleasure of reading aloud, are not affected, as they are not here, then such regularizations (they can not at all be called modernizations) are helpful for reading and teaching. Some actual manuscript pages, clear and readable, are reproduced to take the reader back visually to the witnesses themselves.
    The textual notes are said to “justify the wording (the “readings”) of our edition, especially when the edition has emended the manuscript on which it is based. . . a particularly important matter in this unusually interventionist edition” (49). I recommend reading all the instructions before working on any portion of the text because the formal presentation (what’s in bold, what’s capitalized, what various symbols mean, etc.) is elaborate, though coherent and very effectively clear in application. ……………. Again, everything here is laid bare and demystified, thus empowering the non-specialist reader, and in fact every reader, like no other edition of a Middle English text that I have even seen. In the current burgeoning environment of textual studies, where use of manuscripts and digital facsimiles is becoming standard for scholars and graduate students, and where even on the undergraduate level manuscripts are playing a role in instruction, the presentation of the text could not be more timely or responsive.
    The textual notes are printed after the texts, but full “side notes” parallel it, offering explication, translation, and commentary; they work, as the editors say to “draw the reader inward, back to the texts, rather than outward” toward history or scholarship” (54). They serve, if I may use my own figure, as “companions” along the long, difficult road of understanding. Their engagement with analogues focuses on “thirteenth and fourteenth-century vernacular theologies in Middle English” (among other texts) rather than on the church fathers (55); also noted as “unusual” by the editors is the choice of the RSV of the Bible instead of the Vulgate, the former chosen because “its language seems to us to offer a bridge between Julian’s Middle English and the present” (55).
    Beneath the text of A Revelation, the editors print another text of A Vision, called here an “analytical” text, with bold and italics used to indicate passages unique to the text or revised into A Revelation; this allows for comparative analysis and insight into the process of Julian’s own revision, while keeping us aware of the distinctions between scribal intrusion and authorial revision. A series of related background materials from the literary and cultural legacy of Julian, entitled “Records and Responses, 1395- 1674,” including her encounter with Margery Kempe and documents from the Cambrai nuns, follows the texts; then a full bibliography of primary and secondary material by Amy Appleford, which seems to stand independent of the full bibliographical citations given throughout the notes to the introduction.
    Studies of Julian in the classroom and library can never be quite the same after this edition; the scholarly community has never had greater access to textual history and thus to the dynamic language and art of Julian. The medieval English community should look forward to the fruits this tremendous work will bear in criticism and in the classroom. ………….
    As you can see, Carl, this is an important edition, and what’s more, its available in paperback. I highly recommend it.

  2. I like the Gallacher CoU, but I’m not a ME expert. what’s lost in the translations I’ve looked at is the Humor. the cloud author is Funny! it’s snarky and irreverent in the most edifying way, and the “translations” make it sound stuffy and pretentious.

  3. @Elizabeth – that’s exactly how I felt about St. Paul after reading Borg & Crossan’s book on Paul. I never before knew, despite having read his epistles over and over again, how biting and humorous and sarcastic he was. Thanks to your comment, I’m even more excited to read the original language.

  4. Personally, I don’t know of other editions or better editions, but I am going to send this link to a friend who might know.

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