Alison Flood wrote a delightful piece in the Guardian Books Blog the other day, quoting some of the complaints added to manuscripts by medieval scribes. now gathered together for our entertainment on Brain Pickings.
It put me in mind of the student copy of ‘Gawain and the Green Knight’ which surfaced at Downie Towers the other day. Flipping through it to see how much I would still understand (not much), I found that the margins had been defaced by some terrifying intellectual with handwriting remarkably like my own. There was one point, though, where the intellectual seemed to have cracked.
I remember the exact moment when this particular note was written. We were reading the passage where Gawain was suffering terribly from the cold of winter, and our Middle English professor paused to explain that our medieval ancestors would have longed for Spring with especial fervour, since they had no central heating.
Now, most of the class hardly needed to be told this. We lived in student flats. We spent our winter evenings huddled round electric bar fires in rooms where damp ran down the walls and mice ran across the lino. The poem aroused our heartfelt sympathy for its shivering hero. This is my only excuse for the plaintive and ungrammatical sentence inked into the margin:
Me and Gawain are going to club together and buy a gas fire.