Next Stop, Reims

Ardis Butterfield

  • Europe: A Literary History, 1348-1418 by David Wallace
    Oxford, 1591 pp, £180.00, April 2016, ISBN 978 0 19 873535 9

David Wallace’s Europe: A Literary History, 1348-1418 contains 82 chapters by an enormous team of international contributors spanning what Wallace describes as nine ‘itineraries’: Paris to Béarn; Calais to London; St Andrews to Finistère; Basel to Danzig; Avignon to Naples; Palermo to Tunis; Cairo to Constantinople; Mount Athos to Muscovy; Venice to Prague. These itineraries conclude in the city of Constance, where a Church Council of 1414-18 ‘ended the schism of the Catholic West, essayed rapprochement with the Orthodox East, debated nationhood, discovered ancient texts, wrote new ones, and above all, intermingled’. The project reached completion just before the Brexit referendum, and Wallace sees it as a form of ‘regeneration’, not just for then, but for now. Europe, he says, ‘has fallen out of love with itself’. The Europe of the years between 1348 and 1418 emerged from the Black Death, which may have killed more than half of the population of the continent, and found a new vibrancy after unthinkable destruction. He hopes this will speak to our contemporary lassitude. The distance of a biblical lifetime between our time and the postwar period corresponds to the span that separates the Council of Constance from the first eruptions of the Black Death.

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