Of field-work & marriage


Last week, my one and only and best-beloved sister got married. In the process, I also gained a brother who is also lovely, lovable, and duly loved. They’re obviously very happy, or at least I assume so as I haven’t heard from either of them since they went away on honeymoon a week ago. Everyone else—our mother, family, friends, assorted others who helped them on The Big Day—we’re all very happy too. (True story: when my sister was born, I complained that I didn’t want a little sister but a big brother. Well, 30-odd years later that wish has been granted: my new brother is very tall.)

By a happy coincidence, this event away off on the other side of the world took place at a point in Medieval Studies 301A when we were moving into discussion of unified & universal things, and mystical marriages, and moving towards (next week) mystical marvellous marriages and the marvellousness of medieval romance.

Or rather: by a harmonious happenstance conjunction. (Though it is true that over the course of this course’s planning, back to January this year, I’d have had the idea of marriage on my mind via my sister’s impending nuptials; the engagement having happened at the end of November last year.)

While I was away, this is what the MDVL 301A students were doing:


Fieldwork-day on “your” liberal art:

  • come to class, at the usual time and in the usual place
  • using the attached list [on email sent to students by the FSC] of people and their groups, locate the other people in your group (there should be around 5 people per group). This would also be an opportunity to move around groups: I don’t mind, provided that no group has fewer than 3 people and provided that all concerned are agreeable to the moves
  • for the next parts, you may choose to stay in the classroom to work, or go elsewhere:
    —find at least one medieval representation of your liberal art: for example via the Schoenberg manuscript database:
    —locate your liberal art in The Marriage of Philology and Mercury (at your Connect site)
    —and, as individual or group reading work, find what strike you (for whatever reason) as key or salient points. This could effectively be a summary or a commentary; working separately or together. It can of course be short.
  • final part:
    —go to the library (mostly Koerner, the music group may find the Music library useful)
    —locate as many areas as you can (thinking laterally is encouraged) where you would find further information about your liberal art. Prove you have physically been there (for example, take a group photo posing with a relevant work in the relevant area of the library).
  • When we reconvene on Tuesday, we will spend the first half of the class less formally, on your findings. The end result will be that the whole class will have done a preliminary reading, together, of almost all of The Marriage of Philology and Mercury without breaking a heavy sweat. I will provide further images too.

And last week on Tuesday and part of Thursday’s class, we were all treated to what Chaucer would have immediately recognised as the perfect marriage of sentence and solaas. (Thank you again, O excellent students.)

I thought it was only fair that I should do some field-work too, at the same time as the students were, and that I too should report back; which I did in the rest of Thursday’s class.



This was the first time I had been a bridesmaid, so I learned a lot. It was illuminating to bring together that practical knowledge, all the “it’s traditional…” knowledge of various real live people, and my book-larnin’ and other readings (novels, films, etc.).

On one thing all are agreed: some things are special, symbolic, sacred, secret, of a different order of significance. Yes, even in a registry-office non-religious ceremony. The wedding itself, my time with my sister in preparation for it just before, what she and my mother and I discussed in the car. So I shall not speak of these things.

Like any transubstantiation, transcendence, or other metamorphosis: these are things that cannot be described. That is one way that they can be identified as special things. I shall honour them by not trying to depict or describe them; and thereby try to preserve my own honour by not attempting and then embarrassingly failing to capture and communicate these moments.

Like the moment of exchanging vows, the transformation that happens when a conjunction is officially declared by the ritual magic of a speech-act whose words change a world, the wedding-night, and the honeymoon: and as Chrétien de Troyes so nicely yet teasingly puts it, in Lancelot: on all these things a veil should be drawn.

So I shall talk about wallpaper instead. It is, after all, a kind of veil.



Wallpaper and more: one can still talk about and around weddings and marriage in other ways. Here are slides that I put together from photos (apologies for quality, on ‘phone and usually in haste) before and after; this was the main part of Thursday’s class, and Tuesday next week will resume with the whimsical creative witty hybrids at the end …

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In case you were wondering what happened to heads lost due to poor photography…


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