Friday, January 20, 2017

CFP: Deadline Extended for IARHS Conference

The Eleventh Biennial Conference of the International Association for Robin Hood Studies will take place on 16-17 June 2017 at Auburn University at Montgomery, Montgomery, Alabama, USA.

The theme for this two-day international conference is “Southern Outlaws,” and proposals are welcome on any aspect of “southern” outlawry, banditry, piracy, and other transgressive activities and movements. Such topics spanning the fields of outlaws of the Southern United States, Australia, and South America are particularly welcome. Papers are also invited that explore the metaphorical and spatial conceptions of a “southern” outlaw, especially bad outlaws and trickster figures, and the ways in which geographical and topographical features create and foster outlawry. Papers on the Robin Hood tradition are also welcome. Conference participants will enjoy a variety of peer-reviewed papers from a number of academic fields: literature, history, folklore, theatre, music, anthropology, sociology, geography, art history, and media studies.

The deadline for abstracts for papers and fully formed sessions is March 1, 2017. Papers from graduate and undergraduate students are particularly welcome.

For more information on the conference and to submit abstracts, please see the conference's webpage:

http://www.cas.aum.edu/robin-hood

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Reviews from the Greewood: Kristin Noone on N. B. Dixon’s Heir of Locksley (2016)

The Romance(s) of Robin Hood: N.B. Dixon’s Heir of Locksley (Burscough, Lancashire: Beaten Track Publishing, 2016)

 

Reviewed by Kristin Noone

Irvine Valley College

 

N.B. Dixon’s authorial description of the Outlaw’s Legacy novels (a planned series of four) asks the question, “Who do you owe most loyalty to, your family or yourself?” [1]. In Heir of Locksley, book one of the series, the answer proves to be complex, involving families of blood and of choice, justice and ethics, and desire both sexual and romantic. While Dixon’s first novel in the historical romance sequence could benefit from a more nuanced depiction of medieval attitudes and character types, as well as a more thorough editorial process, this latest revision of the Robin Hood mythology provides a compelling overall narrative, as well as a welcome addition in terms of diversity, flexibility, and exploration of sexual possibilities—in keeping with the fluid, dynamic, protean figure of the outlaw himself.

The preeminent Robin Hood scholar Stephen Knight writes in Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography that “any work which both explores and celebrates the long-standing and still compelling idea of resistance to oppressive authority must not only be a matter of pleasure and excitement, but also—to reassert the central values of the tradition of the good outlaw—a matter of liberty and equality” [2].  In Heir of Locksley, Dixon deftly incorporates both pleasure and excitement, as well as themes of liberty and equality, to craft an appealing portrayal of her central characters, particularly Robin himself. Robin struggles to balance personal desires that may not be socially accepted—romantic interest in both Lucy the miller’s daughter and his best friend Will Scathelock, as well as longstanding friendships and a sense of camaraderie with villagers he has worked alongside—with familial loyalties, obligations, and demands; these themes remain relatable to contemporary audiences, particularly those perhaps wrestling with questions of gender and social acceptance. Dixon presents a Robin Hood who is at times uncertainat times rejecting, and at times embracingof both his desires and his family, and his choices are presented with sympathy and an understanding of their difficulty. 

As this is volume one of four, it also functions as a coming of age story: at the end of the novel, Robin has rejected his birthright as the heir of Locksley, but remains a young hero, having been invited to accompany Richard the Lionheart upon the Crusades. Robin’s struggles to comprehend himself and his desires invoke Knight’s suggested “pleasure and excitement” in terms of sensual language and affective reader identification, while questions of freedom and economics are raised by the author’s constant awareness and effective descriptions of class difference: Robin’s status as local gentry sets him above the villagers, but he in turn can be astonished by the lavish feasts spread for a king’s table. Dixon’s Robin moves between categories, a metamorphosis that is not always easy but always possible: he opens up spaces for multiple sexualities and identities, as lover and beloved of both women and men, disinherited son but friend of a king, object of desire and of obsession. The publisher of the series, Beaten Track, describes itself as “an independent publisher of diverse fiction and non-fiction. We operate on socialist principles and believe in equality, absolutely” [3]. Dixon’s outlaw tale seems to fit this mission statement, and the themes of equality inherent in the Robin Hood myth, neatly.

While N.B. Dixon has evident knowledge of Robin Hood’s thematic history, however, this knowledge seems to be incomplete—not to any extent which might inconvenience a general audience, but may disconcert scholars of the outlaw, both amateur and professional. Dixon demonstrates an at times impressive attention to the details of twelfth-century village life (as in descriptions of water-wheels and mills, or fees and tithes), which serves to realistically and effectively ground the plot and characters; on the other hand, at several points universalizing generalizations appear which tend to flatten and remove historical nuance and rely on cultural assumptions, as when Robin thinks to himself that women who take lovers must always have their reputations destroyed [4], or when he admires the female “plucky spirit” [5]. Dixon also references troubled Norman versus Saxon ethnic relations as paralleling class divisions in England, but does not pause to describe the sources of this conflict, a topic addressed more effectively in previous twentieth-century Robin Hood historical romances such as Jennifer Roberson’s Lady of the Forest (1992). More concerning for scholars, although Dixon’s "Author’s Note" mentions the manor rolls of Wakefield as a possible name-source for a potential Robin Hood, which shows a depth of research beyond the casual, the "Author's Note" also incorrectly states that Robin Hood’s wife “was named Matilda, the original name of Maid Marian as first seen in Anthony Munday’s play” [6]. While the name Matilda is indeed incorporated into Munday’s Robin Hood plays of 1598-99, the process in fact moves the other direction. Maid Marian, like Friar Tuck, existed as part of a separate folk tradition, and then became linked to Robin Hood via village fairs and play-games, finally entering popular culture as part of Robin’s sixteenth-century gentrification.  Munday’s plays assimilate but alters the “low” popular tradition in order to provide Marian with a more aristocratic origin in the form of the Lady Matilda, who, as Stephen Knight has demonstrated, Munday likely borrows—without acknowledgement—from Michael Drayton’s non-Robin Hood poem Matilda the Faire [7].

This misunderstanding is not a one-time occurrence. Dixon’s website quotes the Gest of Robin Hood, calling it “an early ballad” [8].  While not technically inaccurate when one considers the entire history of Robin Hood texts, the Gest is not generally classed among the earliest of the ballads by scholars (a difference of roughly fifty years, for reference), and Dixon does not include any of the easily obtainable information on the Gest, for instance the year of printing (1510) or that it serves as a kind of “encyclopedia” of the collected Robin Hood mythos thus far. To the author’s credit, Dixon does acknowledge the fictionality inherent in Heir of Locksley, writing that “all the events described in this book are entirely fictional” [9] and that the association of Robin with the Crusades is a later development in the outlaw’s mythology. However, the assurance with which statements such as “we now have a rough birthplace for Robin” [10] are delivered might tend to give academics or serious scholars pause—but then, Dixon’s work is intended as a fictionalized historical romance for a non-specialist, albeit interested, readership. On this level, it succeeds at crafting a compelling character-driven story, though at the cost of some accuracy.

For the non-specialist audience, or for scholars interested primarily in the romance (particularly non-heteronormative romance) genre and pop-culture adaptations of the Robin Hood legend, Dixon’s recreation of the outlaw invites identification and interest in expansion of his role. Robin’s growth and increasing maturity are depicted believably, as his relationships and personal ethical code both evolve: his interactions with the outlaw Gilbert White-Hand, with his father, and with Guy of Gisborne provide excellent recurring evidence of this development. The female characters of the novel are less carefully portrayed and skirt the edges of character stereotypes—the scorned and obsessive former betrothed, the kindly old nurse, the love interest who must be sacrificed to further the hero’s journey—but they are at least given individual personalities and voices within those confines. The story of Lucy the miller’s daughter, and her fate, evokes genuine emotion despite its potential for clich├ęs regarding the martyred female body.

As Dixon writes from Robin’s point of view, and in book one of the four-book series he must grow up and come of age, this simplistic perspective may be in part a reflection of character immaturity—we see what Robin sees, and he is on his way to becoming a hero, but not yet fully arrived. His development into heroism, via relationships and love and loyalty, is the driving force behind the novel and the series, and proves sufficiently absorbing for the sequels to hold promise. One minor issue, which may be corrected in future editions of the text, involves several word-confusion errors—not simply an occasional typo, but many words that change the meaning of the intended sentence: “jingling of bridals” as something a horse might wear, a character feeling “a might agitated” rather than “mite”, and visiting a “village fare” rather than a “village fair”[11], to name a few. While the overall historical romance remains enjoyable, these errors become numerous enough to distract readers from the story, especially when they occur during climactic moments.

Despite these critiques, N.B. Dixon’s Heir of Locksley successfully extends the tradition of re-imagining and deploying Robin Hood into spaces which benefit from the symbols of carnival, resistance, and support of equality in the face of oppression. Here, Dixon explores the intersection of gender, family loyalty, and class politics. This is in keeping with an outlaw who, as Stephen Knight notes, has had a fluid relationship with sexuality since the fifteenth century: Robin “acknowledges the value of women as a source of pleasure and sometimes partnership, though he…has strong homosocial, even perhaps homosexual, values” [12]. 

Additionally, increased interest in the Robin Hood figure tends to appear during times of restriction or repression [13]. Dixon’s romance of Robin Hood, appearing in the culturally turbulent year of 2016, blends myth and fiction with historical research and sensuality, and offers readers a hero who can simultaneously feel attraction to both women and men, as well as loyalty to both loved ones and to his personal sense of justice and fairness. While not without flaws, Heir of Locksley should provoke conversations among both scholars and readers for its sympathetic portrait of a conflicted and complex young hero on the first step of his legendary journey.

Notes

[1] N.B. Dixon, “N.B. Dixon: Author of Historical Fiction.” Accessed December 29, 2016.
[2] Stephen Knight. Robin Hood: A Mythic Biography (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2003), xix.
[3] Beaten Track Publishing, “Beaten Track: Publisher of Diverse Fiction and Non-Fiction.” Accessed December 29, 2016.
[4] N.B. Dixon, Heir of Locksley (Outlaw’s Legacy Quartet, Book One; Burscough, Lancashire: Beaten Track Publishing 2016), 195. Available as print and ebook.
[5] Dixon, Heir, 207.
[6] Dixon, Heir, 387.
[7] Knight, Mythic Biography, 59.
[8] Dixon, “Author.”
[9] Dixon, Heir, 388.
[10] Dixon, Heir, 388.
[11] Dixon, Heir; in order, these examples are drawn from pages 153, 194, and 370. More can be found.
[12] Knight, Mythic Biography, 142.
[13] Knight, Mythic Biography, 207.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Notes from the Greenwood: John Winstanley’s "An Invitation to Robin Hood" and "Robin Hood’s Answer" (1742)

John Winstanley’s "An Invitation to Robin Hood" and "Robin Hood’s Answer" (1742)


  Stephen Basdeo


Leeds Trinity University

1408016@leedstrinity.ac.uk



Rosemary Mitchell argues that during the eighteenth century, artists and writers when representing the medieval period did not strive for historical authenticity but instead sought to present a neoclassical or Shakespearean view of the past.[1] Classical imagery is present in some literary representations of Robin Hood from the eighteenth century. In a previous post for this website, it was pointed out that Joseph Addison (1672-1719) thought that Robin Hood was equal to classical heroes such as Achilles and Caesar.[2] The “classicisation” of Robin Hood is even stronger in two mid-eighteenth-century poems entitled “An Invitation to Robin Hood” and “Robin Hood’s Answer” (1742).

These two Robin Hood poems appeared in John Winstanley’s Poems Written Occasionally, Interspersed with Many Others by Several Ingenious Hands (1742). Winstanley (c.1677-1750) was born in Ireland, but he is a minor figure in the eighteenth-century literary world, and virtually nothing is known of his life.[3] However, there is a good chance that the poems were not written by Winstanley, as the subtitle indicates that several writers contributed to the volume. His collection should therefore be viewed as one of the many poetic miscellanies that were published throughout the period. As Robin Hood scholars are unlikely to have come across this poem before, it is transcribed below in full. The original spelling, italicisation, and capitalisation of each word in the original book are retained, with the exception of long s [∫].


“An Invitation to Robin Hood”


SIR, Thursday next, the Archers dine,
On Round of beef, if not Sir Loin;
Though Round suits best, at B—r’s House,
A Glass to drink, and to carouse,
And is, to Marks-men, you’ll allow,
For each his Arrow, and his Bow,
Much fitter to determine Lots;
The Center shewing nearest Shots:
The Day then, Sir, to celebrate,
And crown each Archer’s lucky Fate,
The Muse your Company bespeaks,
To shoot, at least, for Ale and Cakes;
And, Sir, whoever wins the Prize,
To do him Justice to the Skies.

“Robin Hood’s Answer”


Untouch’d by Phoebus’ scorching Rays,
And his poetick Fire,
Victorious Laurel, not the Bays,
Is all my Soul’s Desire.

Soon will the rash Apollo know,
The Danger of inviting,
An Archer armed with his Bow,
And Impliments for fighting.

The Round of Beef with all it’s [sic] Charms,
Will small Protection yield,
Against an Archer’s conquering Arms,
Tho’ turn’d into a shield.

His Butt he’ll make it, which shall feel,
The Marks of his Disdain,
His Arrows tipt with Blades of Steel,
Shall pierce thro’ ev’ry Vein.

The Vict’ry gain’d, he scorns to boast,
For gen’rous Deeds renown’d;
Then to the Round around we’ll toast
‘Till all the World turns round.

Thus writeth in a merry mood,
Your humble Servant Robin Hood.[4]


Commentary

The classical imagery in the poem is self-evident: Apollo (also known as Phoebus), is the Greek god of music, poetry, art, and archery, and he is holding a feast for all legendary archers. The feast will feature an archery contest in which all of the bowmen will test their skills. Winstanley will also be in attendance. He desires Robin Hood to be present, so Winstanley writes him an invitation. Robin responds that he will attend, but he will come to win the contest, outshining even Apollo himself. After Robin has won the contest, he will then feast with the rest of the archers.
There are several reasons why neoclassicism became prevalent in art, literature, and architecture in Britain during the eighteenth century. Joseph M. Levine argues that it was the result of several factors: antiquity was viewed as a “refined,” “polished,” and “civilized” age in which men enjoyed political liberty. This was perfect for England’s polite and commercial elites who viewed themselves as the vanguard of civilisation and liberty.[5] Moreover, classicism was linked to ideals of heroism during the eighteenth century.[6] Winstanley and even the “Augustan” Addison believed that Robin was a hero, one who surpassed even Apollo in his skill and bravery.
In general, the ancient Greeks did not consume great quantities of meat. The references to beef, in contrast to the classical imagery present in the play, lend an air of Englishness to the poems. Perhaps this is Winstanley’s attempt to provide continuity with earlier Robin Hood texts. The outlaws in both the medieval and post-medieval tradition are frequently seen feasting. Feasting occurs in the first and seventh ‘fyttes’ of A Gest of Robyn Hode, and illustrates the truth, honor, and fellowship of the outlaws’ society.[7] Admittedly, it is venison that the outlaws eat in earlier Robin Hood texts. The consumption of beef in Winstanley’s connects the recurrent motif of feasting in the Robin Hood tradition with eighteenth-century British patriotism. During the eighteenth century in which Britain was involved in many wars and a number of these were fought either directly or indirectly against France, beef became a patriotic symbol.[8] It was assumed that the beef fed to English soldiers made them hardy and strong, in contrast to the slim and underfed continental soldiers.[9] The image of the strong Englishman fed on a diet of beef appeared numerous times in contemporary popular culture. In Henry Fielding’s very popular play The Grub Street Opera (1731) contained a patriotic ballad entitled The Roast Beef of Old England. The same theme that was taken up by William Hogarth in an eponymous painting completed in 1748. Fielding’s song was soon set to music and became a military anthem. Later in the century, especially during the Napoleonic Wars, the portly/stocky John Bull, one of England’s national symbols, was often depicted as gorging himself on beef.[10]
Why Winstanley chose to author this poem is unclear. As so little is known of his life, his reasons can only be speculated at. Perhaps he had grown up reading a version of the frequently reprinted eighteenth-century ballad collections known as Robin Hood’s Garland or The English Archer. As a whole, Winstanley’s book appears to have received a favorable reception from some major eighteenth-century cultural figures, such as Jonathan Swift, Colley Cibber, and Alexander Pope.[11] Miscellany collections of poetry, such as Winstanley’s volume, were extremely popular during the eighteenth century. They were not published in order to create a canon of poetic taste but instead were published to provide a snapshot of the popular literary tastes of the moment.[12] And this is why their content is often diverse, explaining why the text of a cheap seventeenth-century broadside ballad such as A Ballad of Bold Robin Hood, Shewing his Birth, Breeding, and Valour (which also features a Christmastime feast on beef) appears alongside poetry written by John Dryden in the same volume.[13]
In conclusion, R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor were quite dismissive of texts from this period, and they included one eighteenth-century Robin Hood ballad in their anthology, for instance, only to illustrate what in their words was “the imaginative poverty as well as stylistic debasement that overtook the legend of the greenwood during the course of the eighteenth century.”[14] Similarly, while Stephen Knight’s research is substantial concerning earlier texts and post nineteenth-century sources, there is still a relative neglect of eighteenth-century works in all three of his monographs. Thus Robin Hood’s appearance in eighteenth-century texts certainly is an area which requires more research.


[1] Rosemary Mitchell, Picturing the Past: English History in Text and Image, 1830-1870 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 9.
[2] Stephen Basdeo, “If They Must Have a British Worthy, They Would Have Robin Hood.” Robin Hood Scholars: IARHS on the Web - The Web Presence of the International Association for Robin Hood Studies, accessed August 12, 2016, http://robinhoodscholars.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/notes-from-greenwood-if-they-must-have.html.
[3] Bryan Coleborne, "Winstanley, John (1677?–1750)" in The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/29758.
[4] John Winstanley, Poems Written Occasionally, Interspersed with Many Others by Several Ingenious Hands (London, 1742), 210-212.
https://archive.org/details/poemswrittenocc00winsgoog.
[5] See Joseph M. Levine, “Why Neoclassicism? Politics and Culture in Eighteenth-Century England,” Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 25, no. 1 (2002): 75-101; and Paul Langford, A Polite and Commercial People: England 1727-1783 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989).
[6] See A. D. S. Smith, “Patriotism and New-Classicism: The 'Historical Revival' in French and English Painting and Sculpture, 1746-1800.” PhD diss., University of London, 1987.
[7] Douglas Gray, “The Robin Hood Poems,” in Robin Hood: Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism, ed. Stephen Knight (Cambridge: Brewer, 1999), 3-37 at 26-27. See also Stephen Knight, "Feasts in the Forest," in Telling Tales and Crafting Books: Essays in Honor of Thomas H. Ohlgren, eds. Alexander L. Kaufman, Shaun F. D. Hughes, and Dorsey Armstrong. Festschriften, Occasional Papers, and Lectures XXIV (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2016), 161-75.
[8] For example, the wars that Britain fought either directly or indirectly against France include The Great Northern War (1700-1721), The War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714), the Jacobite Rebellion (1715), Drummer’s War (1721-25), The War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748), The Second Carnatic War (1749-1754), The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), The War of American Independence (1776-1783), and the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815).
[9] Hannah Velton, Cow (London: Reaktion Books, 2007), 132-133.
[10] See Mark Bryant, The Napoleonic Wars in Cartoons (London: Grub Street Publishing, 2009).
[11] John Winstanley, Poems Written Occasionally, xv-xxv.
[12] “Miscellanies and Eighteenth-Century Print Culture.” Digital Miscellanies Index, accessed August 13, 2016, http://digitalmiscellaniesindex.org/about/miscellanies.php.
[13] ”A Ballad of Bold Robin Hood, Shewing his Birth, Breeding, and Valour,” in The Sixth Part of Miscellany Poems, Containing a Variety of New Translations of the Ancient Poets, Together with Several Original Poems by the Most Eminent Hands. Publish’d by Mr. Dryden (London: J. Tonson, 1716), 346-352.
[14] R. B. Dobson and J. Taylor, eds., Rymes of Robyn Hood: An Introduction to the English Outlaw, 3rd ed. (Stroud: Sutton, 1997), 183.

Image Credits: Frontispiece to John Winstanley’s Poems Written Occasionally (Dublin: Powell, 1742). Digitised by University of Michigan and Made Available via The Internet Archive.