Compte rendu de « Ordering Emotions in Europe, 1100-1800 » (TMR)

Source : The Medieval Review

Broomhall, Susan, ed., Ordering Emotions in Europe, 1100-1800,  Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions. Leiden: Brill, 2015. Pp. xvi, 319. $163.00. ISBN: 978-9-00430-509-0.

Reviewed by Barbara H. Rosenwein
Loyola University Chicago

Although not called a <i>Festschrift</i>, this collection of articles by mainly British and Australian scholars is a tribute to Philippa Maddern, Founding Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, whose untimely death in 2014 left many colleagues both near and far (including this reviewer) in mourning. Susan Broomhall, Maddern’s colleague and a scholarly dynamo who has published (by my count) six collections of essays since 2008, here adds another book to the burgeoning field of the History of Emotions.

« Ordering emotions » refers, according to Broomhall, to how emotions and cognition work together. Broomhall outlines three ways to understand emotions’ role in « ordering » thought. In the first, the researcher seeks to understand how past theories put together « emotion » and « thought. » In the second, the researcher asks how such theories were « enacted…as social and emotional practices. » The third way asks how emotional practices shaped thought, including theories of emotion and cognition.

The first approach is more or less a part of the history of ideas: it looks at ideas about emotions, about cognition, and about the ways they were said to interact. The second adheres to what might be called the « performative » view of emotions, but with a twist. For while many scholars talk about the expression of emotions in everyday life as a sort of performance or practice, Broomhall’s formulation suggests that what is enacted are the theories themselves. This suggests another way to think of « emotionology, » the approach to emotions first advocated by Peter and Carol Stearns, who looked at how advice books for the middle classes influenced behavior and childhood upbringing. The third approach has rarely been so explicitly formulated, but it is implicit, for example, in Damian Boquet and Piroska Nagy’s recent book, <i>Sensible moyen âge</i> (2015), where they argue that the experience of Christ’s Passion led to changes in ideas about the passions.

Thus this book poses questions at the very cutting edge of the History of Emotions. Moreover, the introduction (by Broomhall) provides a good overview of the many issues that researchers in the field confront today. Yet the thirteen essays that follow, ranging over nearly a millennium and taking up disparate topics, cluster around the first two approaches–the changing ways in which Europeans between 1100 and 1800 conceived of the « ordering » of the emotions, and the ways in which emotional « practice » carried out elements of the reigning theory (or theories) of emotions. The third way is rarely attempted. And, indeed, it is the first approach, the one that looks at theory, that is the most fully successful (if also the least ambitious). The point is easily made if we regroup the chapters by theme.

Five chapters focus on theories alone without making claims about practice. In chapter one, Juanita Feros Ruys, « Nine Angry Angels, » explains how scholastic thinkers tried to reconcile the theoretical order of the angels with their ideas about angelic feelings. If the angels were burning with various forms of love (as these thinkers argued), why did some angels rebel against God? The answers witness to a lively concern among the Schoolmen about the disruptive effects of the emotions. In chapter two, Clare Monagle, « Christ’s Masculinity, » takes up the ways in which Peter Lombard thought about the gendering of Christ and his « embodied emotional identity » (32). In effect, Monagle argues, Peter Lombard « masculinized » theology, allowing it to be accessed only by those with training in the <i>ordo rationis</i> (the order of reason), namely « the elite clerical men who attended the schools » (40). In chapter three, Carol Williams shows how theories of the modes of medieval music were understood to affect both morals and behavior. Although plainchant had strict rules, vernacular music was often exempt from these theoretical strictures. This allowed it to express emotions with greater intensity, though some thinkers found ways to accept passionate emotion in plainchant as well. Chapter eight, « Living Anxiously, » by Danijela Kambaskovic concentrates on theories of the senses rather than of the emotions. The « anxiety » in the title refers to an overall « anxious interest in orderly government of the senses » (161). While early modern writers often included « internal senses » such as imagination in their discussions, Kambaskovic focuses on the five that are recognized today. In chapter twelve, « Androgyny and the Fear of Demonic Intervention, » François Soyer explores ideas about ambiguous sexuality, gender, and demonic possession in the early modern Iberian Peninsula. Theologians generally agreed that sexual organs could not actually be transformed by demons, though demons might spread the illusion of such a change. But when it came to trying a woman for the charge of having a penis, inquisitors were willing to convict her of making a pact with the devil in order to have a male member. Soyer is interested in whether popular and elite attitudes differed regarding the role of the demons. Although it seems that popular opinion attributed greater powers to the demons, Soyer concludes that « there was certainly no clear-cut divergence of attitudes » (260).

Touching on the issue of theory turned into practice are six chapters. Very interesting as they are, they also suggest how difficult it is to see precisely <i>how</i> ideas become action. In chapter four, Spencer Young, « Avarice, Emotions, and the Family, » argues that when medieval theorists said that avarice corrupted moral norms, their ideas eventually found their way to popular preachers and thus were imbibed by « late medieval Christians » (71). Most of the essay, however, is about the various ideas moralists held regarding avarice and emotional effects. For example, they railed against the love of children because it prevented fathers from giving their wealth away to charities. In chapter six, « Nicholas of Modruš’s <i>De consolatione</i> (1465-1466), » Han Baltussen takes up a treatise aimed at « grief management » (105). Nicholas’s work, Baltussen argues, was « a stepping stone » (108) in the history of attitudes toward grief. Without doubt, it was meant to guide people. But its actual effects on practice remain unexplored. In chapter nine, Raphaële Garrod looks at « Early Modern Jesuit Discourses about Affects, » taking up in particular the writings of Francisco Suárez and Nicolas Caussin on motherhood. Garrod shows how Caussin tried to turn high-flown theory into « practice » in a letter that he wrote to a grieving mother: she should first feel the full extent of her pain, then recognize that her sorrow came from her Christian imperfection, and finally find solace in the promise of the afterlife. Did the mother put the advice to use? No doubt she tried to do so. In chapter ten, « Anatomy of a Passion, » Louis Charland and R.S. White understand the mad jealousy of Leontes in Shakespeare’s <i>The Winter’s Tale</i> as performing (literally) the theory of the passions of Thomas Wright (d. 1623). While their ultimate purpose is to contribute to our understanding of modern clinical issues, the bulk of their essay explores the two theoretical treatises and their « mirroring » in Shakespeare’s play. Yasmin Haskell’s study, « Arts and Games of Love » in chapter eleven, seeks to discover how classical and Christian ideas about friendship were employed by the Jesuits in « a flurry of poetic activity » (230). The poems were meant to cultivate appropriate homosocial bonds within the order and to sensitize its members to imagine themselves in the place of others in order to « harvest souls at all levels of European society and in the overseas missions » (242). Chapter thirteen, « Medical Effects and Affects, » by Robert L. Weston explores the emotions–mainly negative ones–that arose in the course of correspondence between ailing patients and their doctors in early modern France. Here we see some of the ways in which popular and learned ideas about the passions and disease informed the ways that people talked about themselves and others.

Only two chapters try to show how practice influenced theory. In chapter five, Louise D’Arcens, « Affective Memory across Time, » asserts that Christine de Pizan’s <i>The Book of the City of Ladies</i> used medieval conventions of memory to create a work that would elicit, at one and the same time, male admiration of women rather than derision and female « pride, safety, and sociability instead of shame, fear, and isolation » (88). Here, however, Christine was not quite a theorist nor quite a practitioner but rather a sort of emotional orchestrator, hoping to change the emotional practices she found around her. In chapter seven, « Hearts on Fire, » Susan Broomhall looks at « a richly illustrated manuscript » (121) prepared in 1578 for the French royal court by an apothecary, Nicolas Houel, who hoped to appeal to the « fellow feeling, compassion, and love » of the king and the Catholic citizens of Paris. This manuscript was one of several aimed at getting donations for Houel’s pet project: a charitable institution to treat the poor, infirm, and elderly while offering education to boys and girls. The manuscript’s text and illustrations, Broomhall argues, « performed » the « emotional acts, expressions and gestures » (121) that Houel derived from his (lay) understanding of contemporary theological and psychological theories and his expectations regarding « the emotional and spiritual practices of his audience » (133). Broomhall shows how Church teachings (e.g. that contrition required recognition of God’s sacrifice) shaped the « performance » of Houel’s manuscript (where both text and illustrations demonstrated that sacrifice) and how such teachings were deployed for purposes (such as Houel’s charity) for which they were not originally designed. But it is only when treating (all too briefly) the civic culture of the Parisian professionals that Broomhall is able to show how Houel’s treatise transformed <i>practices</i> per se into a theory of communal compassion.

In sum, this book offers many worthy–and, indeed, several brilliant–essays in the history of emotion. But it also highlights the challenges posed by the field. It is much easier to talk about various theories of emotion than it is to show how those theories were turned into practice. And, at least from the evidence here, it is very difficult to trace a direct line between emotional practices and the creation of theories of emotion.