We were talking Tuesday about the effectiveness of conduct texts in Medieval England and today. It was mentioned that we can’t really have a generalized idea of whether or not they worked in instructing members of the gentry just like people from the future wouldn’t be able to deduce whether works that carry a similar message today work or not. It seemed as if the class was trying to draw parallels between literature today and literature then. The consensus was that conduct texts are not the primary source of literary enlightenment today, since the fictional novel has taken over. But we do still have texts that could be considered morality driven and that clearly instruct their readers. Children’s Literature, especially fairy tales, was a genre that was mentioned as being very didactic at times as well as many religious texts like bible studies or devotional tools (for the Christian faith). I can’t help but think that scholars of 21st century literature hundreds of years from now will consider many texts floating around in our society to be didactic even if we don’t necessarily consider them so, or pay them any mind. I think what is important, what the parallel that I’m drawing between our century and the 15th, is that these texts exist then and now. We still very much live in a society that is focused on what is socially proper and morally sound. We, as a society, are still very much focused on social etiquette. When I was in middle school, my honors English class was forced to participate in an extracurricular course in which the book 7 habits for the high effective teen was taught. It highlighted what you should do in terms of school and studying habits. What you should do in peer pressured situations… if this book isn’t a modern day version of conduct texts, I don’t know what is.
It just seemed to me that the general consensus was that conduct texts were completely out of fashion and out dated in our society. But I think that they are very much alive and well, just as much as they were in Medieval England. We might not recognize them as easily in our own time, because we are incapable of placing ourselves outside of it, but I think many years from now people would be able to draw parallels between the conduct texts of medieval England and the ones now.
It helped me put these conduct texts like How the Good Wife and How the Good Father into better perspective in terms of their effectiveness when I thought about conduct texts in our own society. Some would consider them highly effective, others would not. I can still remember my mother reading me All Mine Bunny and warning against the dangers of selfishness. I’m not sure I’ll ever forget it, but others may not have been affected by this terrifying story of loneliness. I think the same would be true of Medieval Englanders. Not everyone was going to take these conduct texts to heart. They were all individuals then, just as we are now. I guess I caught myself thinking that these texts were like law, that they were universally studied and abided by, but that can’t be true. That would be like assuming every Medieval Englander shared the same brain.
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