Looking French: A Comparative Codicology of Multilingual Flemish Manuscripts

Jenneka Janzen
Utrecht University

Scholarship in recent years has revisited, and rebutted, a conceptualization of medieval French literature in which texts and translations radiate from central France and Anglo-Norman England to Francophone satellites further afield. Multiple studies have effectively demonstrated that French texts – literary, documentary, and ephemeral – were robustly produced outside traditionally ‘French’ enclaves in the High and Late Middle Ages (cf Wogan-Browne 2009, Gaunt 2012-2015, Lusignan 2012 and 2017). Moreover, the position of Flanders as a contact zone, driven by trade and diplomacy, for multiple linguistic and literary cultures has been recognized, if understudied. When Flemish literary culture is addressed, specific manuscripts are discussed primarily from a text-centric perspective; the effects of this multilingual cultural exchange on the appearance of Flemish manuscripts largely remains to be seen.

Using quantitative methods alongside traditional codicological approaches (cf Derolez, Bischoff, and Gumbert), my paper works towards a comparative codicology of multilingual (French-Dutch, French-Latin) manuscripts produced in Flanders in the later Middle Ages. Language-identified scripts (e.g. bastarda, hybrida) are well known in the palaeographer’s lexicon, but what codicological features or production techniques might be identified as ‘French’ in the multilingual setting of Flanders? Moreover, how did scribes interpret or alter bookmaking conventions associated with a particular linguistic group when making multilingual manuscripts? And, what conventions did scribes employ to present texts translated to or from French? My paper explores these queries using a corpus of manuscripts selected for the project The Multilingual Dynamics of the Literary Culture of Medieval Flanders (ca 1200–ca 1500). My colleagues address in their conference presentations critical political, social, and linguistic implications of choosing to create and use French literature in Flanders; in my complimentary paper, I identify how choosing to write in French may have impacted the physical presentation of Flemish manuscripts. Lastly, from a Manuscript Studies perspective, I reflect on what the material features of French-language manuscripts tell us about the position of French within this lively multilingual and translingual literary landscape.