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Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Canto) Paperback – October 28, 1998
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"Another side of Lewis's witty, lucid intellect is revealed in this 1966 collection, now returned to print. Its 14 papers deal with Spenser, Dante, Malory, Tasso and Milton, and with such other topics as the medieval talent for reworking old books into something fresh and original." The New York Times
'Another side of Lewis's witty, lucid intellect is revealed in this 1966 collection, now returned to print. Its 14 papers deal with Spenser, Dante, Malory, Tasso and Milton, and with such other topics as the medieval talent for reworking old books into something fresh and original.'The New York Times'A remarkable intellect turns to the work of Spenser, Dante, Malory, Tasso and Milton. The 14 essays provide insight into medieval life as well as medieval literature.'Philadelphia Inquirer
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Top Customer Reviews
CS Lewis is aware of these difficulties and he mentions (in one of his chapters on Spenser) that what we call "medievalism" is actually late Renaissance projected back onto the middle ages. But, Lewis says, that's quite okay, too. In many ways, *Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature* is a running commentary on how to read allegory, mainly Dante's and Spenser's.
Lewis begins with the making of a Medieval book--and the bookish manner of medievals in general. Parts of this section (the first 3 chapters) are quite difficult reading, even to those who are intimately familiar with the issues involved. But through it we see a contrast between medieval ways of reading texts and (post)modern ways of reading. The former looks for harmony while the latter looks upon texts with suspicion--the essence of both the medieval and modernistic worldviews, respectively. Lewis then concludes this section with a fascinating essay on medieval cosmology: and for the perceptive readers, this essay is the foundation of his *Space Trilogy.*
The next chapters deal with Dante. Lewis takes several difficult passages in Dante and demonstrates to the reader how to run a literary critique upon them; the same technique applies to his chapters on Spenser. Lewis also deals with Morte D'Arthur and the "knightly" issues.
I had to read this book at different times. It was really difficult because Lewis rarely gives a context for his references. However, the difficulty should not deter readers; there are many jewels in this book if the reader is willing to dig.
Other essays are much more detailed and are really aimed at the specialist. Lewis' several essays on Dante are of this sort: they are characterized by a marked lack of translation from the Italian (or Anglo-Saxon or Latin or . . . ). I suspect that to other specialists, these would be interesting and engaging. I'm no such specialist, and can't judge them from that perspective. I certainly found them to be informative, especially if you consider that nearly all of what Lewis had to say was, as they say, "information to me". If you're interested in Lewis for apologetic or theological reasons, these essays will open your eyes to what Lewis himself saw as the center of his career -- but even there, I would probably recommend starting with The Discarded Image or A Preface to Paradise Lost. Both of those are more disputational in nature (if much less so than his overtly theological works), and hence more likely to hold a dabbler's interest.
Although his professional output was fairly modest in quantity, in quality it enjoys a high reputation. His longer works include "The Allegory of Love", "English Literature in the Sixteenth Century", "Studies in Words", and "The Discarded Image". In addition to these, he also wrote a number of short works, which are published in this volume. To aid readers, I've listed the table of contents below:
Preface (by Walter Hooper)
"De Audiendis Poetis
"The Genesis of a Medieval Book"
"Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages"
"Imagery in the Last Eleven Cantos of Dante's Comedy"
"The Morte Darthur"
"Edmund Spenser, 1552-99"
"On Reading the Faerie Queene"
"Neoplatonism in the Poetry of Spenser"
"Spenser's Cruel Cupid"
"Genius and Genius"
"A Note on Comus"
Additional Editorial Notes
None of these works are available in any other in-print collection (unusual for Lewis - his other shorter works have been collected multiple times in a variety of overlapping collections). As such, for those interested in the subject matter, this collection is highly recommended.
A second important collection of Lewis's writings as a literary critic is "Selected Literary Essays", which unfortunately is out of print and very hard to find. Another such collection to consider, (largely concerned with the science fiction and fantasy genres), is "On Stories, and Other Essays". That work is readily available.
Finally, those with a general interest in Lewis's shorter works may also want to get "Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces", which, as of the time of this writing, is available from Amazon UK but not Amazon US. That collection consists of about 130 short works by Lewis. While the collection centers around his writings on Christianity, it also includes a number of works of literary criticism, including all the works in "Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories".