The Imagining History project

brut detail

Research Methods

Page Information

Author: Stephen Kelly
Revised: April 2006
Reviewed: June 2006

Methodological Issues:
Avoiding the Editorial Imperative
'Mapping' the Middle English Prose Brut
On Mapping: Manuscript Geography and Textual Reception
Implications for Outputs: Mapping the Brut online

Avoiding the Editorial Imperative

With over 181 manuscripts and textual fragments, the Middle English Prose Brut is a massive text and a daunting prospect for any editor. The last edition of the Middle English Prose Brut dates from 19061 with a recent edition by William Marx based on a small sample of genetically-related set of MSS, wisely bearing the more modest title of An English Chronicle 1377-1461.2 Enterprises such as the latter seem the most sensible way forward, at least until an international ediorial consortium of some kind decides to tackle all the MSS of the English Prose Brut in all the language versions in which it survives.

The Imagining History project raises methodological as well as practical issues relating to any such future editorial work. Does an edited text provide scholars with a full sense of the cultural work undertaken by this enormously popular text? The concern of traditional editing with abolishing scribal 'error' in the interest of establishing an ur-text seemed to us, at least in the context of the Brut, to be an anti-historical enterprise. A sense of the use and value of the Brut can only be established by exploring the biobibliographical contexts of the text's production and reception. Assessing the codicological contexts of Brut manuscripts in such a manner makes best sense intellectually against the backdrop of the massive influence of the Brutus myth across Europe, and its political utility, in Britain, for the Norman, Tudor, and later colonial projects. The work we have thus far undertaken demonstrates the extent to which producers and readers of the Brut made and used the text in these contexts, aware of its value in issues of political and legal debate and ethnic self-fashioning. The text's capacity for extension - its capacious appetite for incorporating other histories - provide us with an account of literary culture arguably alien to most English literary historians working in a terrain dominated by Chaucerian or other authorial models. The accretive and corporate character of the Brut points to a different model of textual production - a model which, crucially, informs English printing from its inception.

Next: Mapping the Middle English Prose Brut