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Abstracts: Volume 90, Number 4 (2011)

"The Sexual Riddle Type in Aldhelm's Enigmata, the Exeter Book, and Early Medieval Latin" by Mercedes Salvador-Bello

The cluster of erotic riddles found in the Exeter Book (nos. 41-46) has usually been regarded as an isolated case of bawdy literature that inexplicably managed to survive in a codex with conspicuous religious contents such as the opening Advent Lyrics. However, a careful examination of early medieval Latin collections reveals that some of the pieces also present sexual double entendre and imagery that can compare to the erotic components found in the Exeter counterparts. This essay therefore explores the possible existence of the erotic category in the case of Aldhelm's Enigmata and other Latin riddle collections. The study of this neglected aspect of early medieval riddling will thus provide us with relevant information about the ways vernacular literature interacted with Anglo-Latin tradition.

"Killer and Healer: Late Classical Analogues for the Old English Sun Riddle" by Thomas D. Hill

The Old English sun riddle, preserved as Riddle six in The Exeter Book, defines the sun as a killer and a healer: this definition of the nature of the sun has puzzled commentators, but is paralleled in the Saturnalia of Macrobius, a text which is unlikely to have been widely read in Anglo-Saxon England since Macrobius quotes Greek extensively, but which was available and might well have been excerpted or served as the source for marginalia or other forms of learned discourse.

"Biogeography, Climate, and National Identity in Smollett's Humphry Clinker" by Denys Van Renen

Can we add Matthew Bramble's dissatisfaction with England's biohazards to analyses of his tetchy temperament? In Tobias Smollett's Humphry Clinker (1771), the Welsh squire Bramble laments the "streams of endless putrefaction" in Bath and London. This article argues that these streams result from commercialism and stand metonymically for trade routes that connect these cities to far-flung commercial ports. In England, Bramble imagines economic refugees as environmental ones, establishing a causal link between commercial excesses and environmental degradation. This environmental degradation prompts Bramble to celebrate the purity of Scotland. In doing so, he attempts to restore a sense of national identity distinct from the excesses of trade and consumption. While he details environmental degradation of England's modernization, Bramble embraces and (re)constitutes a Scottish national identity that rests on Scotland as a pristine natural environment, revealing the limits to his critique of global commerce and territorial imperialism.

"Violence, Transcendence, and Resistance in the Manuscripts of Yeats's 'Leda and the Swan'" by Bernard McKenna

"Leda and the Swan," when read in the context of its drafts and foul papers, embodies Yeats's concept of tragedy. The manuscript evidence shows that the poem despairs of any transcendent meaning in conflict and instead explores the value of resistance, even in the face of an omnipotent force. Leda and Yeats, insofar as he can identify with her, come to a point where they translate their suffering into human understanding. In this way, Leda becomes more powerful than the god whose lust created the grotesque swan; the animal form of the swan subsumes Zeus's divine individuality. Leda resists and is overwhelmed, but in the end retains her humanity. Likewise, Yeats struggles against the tides of history, the inevitability of time and its gyres.

"On the Use of History for Life in Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra and Pirandello's Henry IV" by Francesca Cauchi

Taking as its point of departure Nietzsche's contention that history should be used to invigorate rather than enervate the present, this essay shows how the eponymous antiheroes of Pirandello's Henry IV and Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra deploy masks modeled on historical exemplars as a means of releasing instinctual selves into a more vital, more lived reality. It also argues that while historical role-play cathartically relieves the burden of one's cultural and personal history, these histories are ineradicable. Man, contends Nietzsche, is ineluctably implicated in the follies and aberrations of the past, and in "Henry IV's" fatal wounding of a rival suitor and Zarathustra's eternal return to his symbolic mountain refuge the triumph of the past over the present is made manifest.

"History, Fiction and Ethics: The Search for the True West in True Grit" by Kenneth Millard

This paper is an examination of Charles Portis's True Grit that places the novel in the context of recent debates about history and fiction. The argument asks if there is a metaphysics of authenticity that still resides in our understanding of Western fiction, and whether it derives from history as the definitive measure of value. What degree of ethical responsibility does the historical novelist have, especially in a postmodern culture where history is itself often understood as simply another form of narrative? Mattie's story dramatizes the ways in which history is aesthetically composed, and the American West is thereby used by Portis to question the status of Western mythology.