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3 - The Auchinleck Adam and Eve: An Exemplary Family Story

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 May 2021

Susanna Fein
Affiliation:
Professor of English, Kent State University.
A. S. G. Edwards
Affiliation:
Professor of Medieval Manuscripts, School of English, University of Kent
Helen Phillips
Affiliation:
Professor of English, Cardiff University
Derek Pearsall
Affiliation:
Professor Emeritus of English, Harvard University, Honorary Member, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of York
Cathy Hume
Affiliation:
Visiting Scholar at Northwestern University, Illinois.
Ralph Hanna
Affiliation:
Emeritus Professor of Palaeography, University of Oxford
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Summary

THE idea that Auchinleck was compiled for a family audience is now well established. Newer scholarship has moved away from Laura Hibbard Loomis's and P. R. Robinson's view that the manuscript was produced speculatively, to the belief that it was a bespoke production, which to some extent reflected the preferences of an individual purchaser. We do not know anything about this individual's social status or geographical location, much less his or her actual identity, though various possibilities have been suggested. But the way in which Auchinleck's contents are at once varied in terms of genre – including romance, chronicle, hagiography, and doctrinal texts – and also unified by vernacularity and a certain lack of sophistication suggests that it was a household or family manuscript. That term can be used quite broadly to mean that it was designed to meet the varied reading needs of an entire secular household. More specifically, though, Nicole Clifton, Phillipa Hardman, and Linda Olson have all suggested a child or adolescent audience for some of the Auchinleck texts. Here I want to think further about how Auchinleck seems to have been designed for family reading, in relation to a text Clifton mentions only in passing: the unusual and relatively little-read Auchinleck Life of Adam and Eve. It is a small gem of vivid narrative, and, I will argue, it surprisingly presents Adam and Eve as positive exemplars for a medieval Christian family.

The verse Life of Adam and Eve is now the third item in Auchinleck, and was originally numbered eighth. It appears in the mainly religious booklet 1 after The King of Tars and before the stanzaic lives of Seynt Mergrete and Seynt Katerine. The poem as we have it is incomplete. The title and the opening section of the poem are lost; the first extant 352 lines appear in the fragment of Auchinleck that is now Edinburgh, University Library, MS 218, after which there is a further missing section. The poem begins again on fol. 14ra of Auchinleck and continues for a further 427 lines. It is copied entirely by Scribe 1 in his South-Eastern dialect.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2016

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